Making Connections


Enhanced support from year one

The Connections experience begins before students even arrive on campus, as they select a first-year seminar. As in the past, these seminars explore areas of particular interest to faculty and emphasize discussion-based learning and inquiry. But in the new model, the seminars also provide a forum for students to engage with each other and the broader community; to explore issues of equity and inclusion; and to begin thinking openly and creatively about both their time in college and their lives after graduation. 

Beginning this fall, each first-year seminar is supported by a team of advisers — including the seminar professor, a professional staff adviser, and one or more student advisers — who mentor and support students in making the most of their College experience. 

These elements place Connections on a solid foundation, explains Jefferson Singer, dean of the College. “Research about student success has identified the importance of strong first-year programming such as our first-year seminars, integrated and accessible academic advising, and availability of support systems such as our Academic Resource Center. Our students now benefit from all of these.”

As part of their foundational coursework, students will also take at least one ConnCourse, a new type of class that introduces students to the idea of applying a broad lens and multiple modes of thinking within a specific academic discipline. The ConnCourse is designed to help students experience the rigor and deep learning of upper-level classes in their first semesters, without the need for prohibitive prerequisite courses. 

Curriculum photo 1

Charting a Pathway

In the fall of sophomore year, each student will select an integrative pathway: an interdisciplinary, faculty-curated theme that ties together a student’s learning. The model for the pathway concept is the College’s academic centers for interdisciplinary scholarship, through which students have been earning certificates for more than two decades. The College’s four certificate-granting centers are, for practical purposes, the first four pathways available to students. 

The first step on the integrative pathway is a gateway course. This interdisciplinary seminar introduces students to the theme of the pathway and asks students to develop animating questions that are meaningful to them. For example, a student interested in the arts who selects a pathway with a public health focus might ask, “In what ways can community performing arts organizations address health disparities?” These animating questions provide focus for each student’s work, culminating in the fall semester of the senior year, when students will present their findings at an all-College symposium, already tagged with the nickname “Floralia of the Mind.”

Along the way, students will complete pathway-affiliated courses that engage students in different modes of inquiry (MOI), or ways of thinking. These modes include creative expression, critical interpretation and analysis, quantitative and formal reasoning, scientific inquiry and analysis, and social and historical inquiry.

Christopher Hammond, associate dean of the College for curriculum, explains the thinking behind these modes of inquiry. “Our goal is to transcend rigid disciplinary boundaries, while allowing students to engage with the broad ways through which human beings know and experience the world, others and self.”

Engaging locally and globally

The new curriculum also builds on the College’s strength in global education, so that as students engage in global communities— both domestically and internationally — they can empathize, communicate and collaborate with others from diverse cultures in their own languages. Language and culture study will be infused throughout all dimensions of the new curriculum: in coursework, internships, study-away programs, community-based learning and student research projects, to name a few. 

To encourage students to fully engage in communities where English is not the primary language, the new curriculum requires two semesters of study in a single language. Students will be encouraged to fulfill the language requirement by the end of sophomore year, so they can pursue advanced study and projects during their junior and senior years. Students will work with their advisers to apply their language study to activities that reach beyond the traditional classroom.

Our goal is to transcend rigid disciplinary boundaries, while allowing students to engage with the broad ways through which human beings know and experience the world, others, and self.

CHRIS HAMMOND‍, associate dean of the College for curriculum

Starting now

While it will be a few years before there are enough pathways finalized to accommodate every student — you may need to wait five years to attend your first campus-wide Floralia of the Mind — students are benefiting from the new curriculum today. The new first-year advising was piloted last year and implemented this fall. A sustainability pathway is being piloted this fall, and modes of inquiry will replace distribution requirements for all students in Fall 2016. There is also incredible enthusiasm in the community about taking part in the new curriculum, and continuing the work of developing and improving Connections as it is implemented. 

Jefferson Singer, dean of the College, could not be more pleased with how the community has rallied around this effort. “We are incredibly proud of the way faculty, students and staff came together to do the hard and thorough work of reimagining a 21st-century liberal arts curriculum.”

Curriculum photo 3
Funded internships are a signature Connecticut College program, and are now more tightly integrated into the curriculum. Here, Claire Lingham ’16, an East Asian studies major and CISLA scholar, interns at the Changyu Pioneer Wine Company in the city of Yinchuan, in the province of Ningxia, one of China’s best wine-growing regions.

May 17, 2015