Spring 2016 brings an important change to one of George Mason University’s most vital and forward-looking academic components. With a bold eye to the future, New Century College (NCC) is changing its name. Effective May 2016, New Century College will become the School of Integrative Studies (SIS). For the academic unit that has always been at the forefront in education, a new name is nothing...well...new.
With extensive survey and interview feedback from faculty, alumni, students, and partners, the unit selected a name that more accurately reflects the core of the school’s mission: the interdisciplinary, experiential research and study undertaken by its faculty and students.
NCC started as an experiment in teaching pedagogy. Responding to a 1988 challenge from the Virginia General Assembly-appointed Commission on the University of the 21st Century, a team of Mason professors developed a curriculum built around integrative, experiential learning that would equip students to meet the changing workforce needs of the new century.
The team called the new unit “New Century College,” and brought together scholars from different disciplines to craft innovative experiences that would foster hands-on learning outside the classroom.
In a 2013 interview, NCC’s founding dean John O’Connor said, “We coalesced around the idea of a more pragmatic liberal arts—a liberal arts education that would get you a job.”
And it worked. Per program requirements, all NCC students graduate with at least 12 credits of experiential learning. The graduating class of 2014 reported that 77 percent had internships, 28 percent held leadership positions in an extracurricular group or club, and 19 percent had studied abroad. Additionally, 92 percent of fall 2013 incoming freshmen remained in the program their second year.
A 1999 Washington Post article hailed NCC as a “standout model” and “beacon, leading the charge into the 21st century.”
FAST FORWARD: A NEW ERA
NCC gained recognition as a leader in integrative teaching. Students found success in their careers and the unit carved its niche on the Mason campus. However, as NCC neared its 20th anniversary, many faculty members and students felt the name “New Century College” did not resonate beyond the year 2000. It didn’t convey the variety of research and learn- ing taking place in the college’s diverse concentrations, which range from childhood studies and applied global conservation, to legal studies and social justice and human rights. NCC needed a name that captured its multifaceted programming.
NCC faculty chair Paul Gorski says, “Before we can address social, environmental, or other problems, we have to equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills we can only cultivate by looking at those problems from a variety of angles, informed by a variety of experiences. With the name change we are doubling down on this commitment through innovative courses and programs.”
Kelly Dunne, interim associ- ate dean of NCC, explains that the name “School of Integrative Studies” describes the way students learn in this unit. “Students use different tools and techniques to tackle contemporary challenges,” she says. “The new name creates a broad foundation for this multiplicity of disciplines and research to collaborate—ultimately benefitting our entire campus community.”
“The original NCC developed a unique and powerful pedagogy, and our new School of Integrative Studies captures that unique student experience. Our name is not just what we teach, but how we teach,” says Greg Unruh, the Arison Professor of Values Leadership.
He continues, “The term ‘integrative studies’ crystalizes our core methodology of experiential, cross-sectoral approaches to learning that will enable our students to address the pressing social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Our track record demonstrates the model’s success through the students we attract, the research they conduct, and the jobs they secure after graduation.”
Term associate professor Al Fuertes says, “I think the new name is more advantageous to our graduates when conducting their job searches. The term ‘integrative studies’ has more meaning to employers. Our students are well-rounded and prepared to address the complexity of the challenges they will face in the workplace. In employment that’s becoming more situational, an integrative background is very beneficial.”
Following its launch, SIS will remain housed within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and continue to offer its hallmark liberal arts-based education, encour- aging students to pursue their academic passions. The majors, minors, concentrations, and programs created by NCC will remain the same.
This article originally appeared in the 2016 edition of Cornerstone.
July 11, 2016