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The University Magazine

Faculty Essay

Jeremy Haefner

Jeremy Haefner joined RIT as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost in 2008.

Conversion provides opportunity to reinvent

Earlier this year, President Bill Destler formally announced that RIT will shift from its quarter system to a semester system with two 15-week sessions, taking effect in the fall of 2013. The dialogue about whether to make such a change was spirited, yet respectful.

While it is true the quarter system differentiates RIT from many other colleges and universities, it also increasingly isolates us. We could soon find ourselves among less than five percent of schools that maintain quarters. This could lead to a negative impact on co-ops, credit transfers, student exchange, and study abroad opportunities for students. Furthermore, we feel strongly that transitioning to a semester system will enhance our overall student retention efforts.

These priorities align with what we are hearing from alumni. In an online survey by the Alumni Association conducted immediately after the conversion announcement, respondents most commonly ranked “student success” as RIT’s top attribute. When asked about the university’s educational attributes, “experiential education” such as co-ops ranked highest. “Rigorous academic schedule” was selected far less frequently.

Making the transition to semesters also provides us a very important opportunity. Since all current academic offerings will need to undergo revisions to meet a 15-week delivery schedule, there is no better time to review and refresh our entire portfolio of programs. Our students are clamoring for more experiential learning in the form of international co-ops, undergraduate research, study abroad opportunities, innovation and creativity experiences, and community learning. Now is the perfect time to redesign our programs in order to meet these needs of our students.

Some of our existing programs have served their life and simply do not reflect where the university needs to be heading.

To effectively implement such a complex change, we have parsed the process into phases. During the preliminary phase, I appointed Fernando Naveda as the calendar conversion director. Fernando, who previously served as department chair of software engineering in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, will oversee the logistics of this massive undertaking, including the planning, budgeting and communication to the campus community.

Also in the preliminary phase, we were successful in shaping and defining RIT’s Academic Program Profile. Back in March, approximately 150 faculty, staff, trustees and students engaged in discussion to better sharpen our understanding of how programs should fit the RIT mission and vision. Using the strategic plan of the university, the group arrived at a prioritized list of characteristics for academic programs that serve as categories for learning outcomes. With the approval of our Academic Senate in May, the Academic Program Profile has become our launching point for the calendar conversion process.

This brings us to Phase 1. Over the next year, faculty and administrators at the department and college level will be responsible for the redesign of all programs, which are subject to the work performed in the preliminary stage. Each program must receive campus approval at the end of this phase.

Phase 2 will begin in August 2011, at which time our curriculum redesign will be sent to the New York State Education Department. It will also mark the rollout of the new student information system, as we prepare the campus for advising students on managing the conversion.

August 2012 will mark the beginning of Phase 3. During this period, students will meet with advisers to develop their Individual Student Conversion Plan. This phase is critical to maintaining our pledge that the conversion to semesters will not impede the progress of students toward degree completion, nor will the conversion require any student to pay extra. This is of the upmost importance to President Destler and myself.

After the campus goes “live” with semesters in August 2013, our emphasis in the post-conversion phase will remain on advising students to ensure our student pledge is upheld and resolving any issues that may arise along the way.

I want to reiterate my gratitude for the support that has been offered to move the calendar conversion process forward. We have already made tremendous progress, and it will continue to require cooperation from all aspects of the university community. My commitment to this process is to remain open, transparent, and supportive. I am assured, from the support received, that we will take this opportunity to truly transform our curriculum and catapult Rochester Institute of Technology toward further greatness. These are truly exciting times for RIT!

Jeremy Haefner