Creating a new major is a complex process. ICQ sat down with Linda Heyne, chair of the Department of Therapeutic Recreation and Leisure Studies, to discuss how OAL went from idea to reality.
Learning to read a map and use a compass in the woods
ICQ: When was the idea for a new major first conceived? Was the desire for the new major driven by students or the faculty in other programs?
LH: The major was driven initially and primarily by student interest.
For several years the department has offered a tremendously popular, always full course called Outdoor Adventure Skills. Until the department hired Rob Porter, who came in fall 2002, we didn't have the faculty resources to offer a second section. With Rob on board, not surprisingly, the new section also filled immediately, underscoring the strong student interest in outdoor leadership and the potential for a new major.
At the same time the department was completing a self-study, which all departments at the College had been undertaking under direction from the president and provost. We evaluated every facet of our program -- our entire curriculum, student interest and feedback, numbers of majors and minors, faculty expertise, and faculty workload, among others. We spent many hours in meetings, and it became clear that we could allow Rob an opportunity to make use of his professional skills in outdoor adventure pursuits. We took a look at the courses we had and realized that our outdoor courses had been "buried" in the curriculum; it was difficult for students to find them, much less recognize how they could be combined to lead to a professional career.
We realized we needed to do a better job of making the coursework and potential career path visible to students, which we believed would happen if the program was defined as a major. Rob's professional expertise was instrumental in reframing the outdoor courses to form the major. Rob also suggested integrating the Wilderness Education Association component into our curriculum, a unique feature. Students who complete our program of the nationally recognized WEA 18-point outdoor leadership curriculum will be eligible to apply for WEA certification, which is well known in the field. It says to a possible job supervisor that these students have proven to be capable outdoor leaders, and it should greatly enhance their employability. It puts our graduates one step ahead of noncertified individuals.
We held open sessions for students and presented our ideas, point by point. They wholeheartedly supported the new major, verifying our hunch. We also sought input from our Professional Advisory Committee, which is composed of local practitioners in recreation and advocacy agencies.
Another exciting happening at this time was the sudden blossoming of our student recreation club (now called the Adventure Recreation Club), then led by club president Charlie Dorsey '04, a TR major. Under his leadership, 60 students showed up to the first ARC meeting, when typically club meetings had drawn 4 or 5 students. This grassroots interest and organization also fueled our drive to create the major.
ICQ: What is the process for getting a new major approved?
LH: The details of the new major -- course titles and descriptions, revised syllabi, when and how often the courses should be offered, class sizes, the sequencing of skills -- were first sorted out by our faculty. Then came mountains of paperwork. Very detailed Academic Policies Committee proposals were completed. The APC proposals were then reviewed by the School Curriculum Committee, composed of faculty from every department in the school and led by associate dean Patricia Green.
Next the proposal went to the College's Curriculum Committee, and from there to the provost's office. Ultimately, approval is given based on the soundness of the rationale and the proposals, whether additional academic or facilities resources are needed (none in our case, at least not for now), and how perfectly the forms are completed.
The final step in the process was approval by the New York State Education Department, which we were delighted to receive on May 10.
Photo by Eric Barbehenn