By: Rose Hogmire

This fall, Ripon College faculty are rolling out an innovative and comprehensive new curriculum for incoming students called Catalyst, which will help students build skills necessary for personal, academic, and career development.

“The students have two classes their first year and two classes their second year,” says senior and student representative for the Education Policy Committee Allison Reinhart. “They’ll focus on working within different groups and gaining needed academic skills, like writing. These classes follow up to a final Applied Innovation seminar, which is like one big class project where they try to understand and solve a major world problem.”

Along with the five seminars that enable students to develop skills essential to college success and learn to work collaboratively, students earn a Concentration in Applied Innovation. The new curriculum is said to also provide students with more choice in pursuing their academic path with the creation of 140 new Catalyst seminars.

“Previously, there was little choice for students based on little background,” says Vice President and Dean of Faculty Ed Wingenbach. “I’m very excited we designed a general education curriculum that shifts from a distribution focus, where students choose classes based on vague paragraph descriptions, to something intentionally designed to add justification and value.”

Ripon College was awarded $800,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support Catalyst’s implementation for the curriculum’s unique and ample re-imagination of curriculum and dedication to liberal arts education and applied learning.

“[The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation] are concerned about the future of liberal arts education,” says Dean Wingenbach. “When Zach Messitte and I met with them last fall, we had a lot of conversation about addressing applied learning in a direct and aggressive way.”

Ripon College faculty identified national trends in skills requested by employers and graduate programs, crafting seminars that address oral communication, writing, critical thinking, collaborative, quantitative reasoning, information literacy, integration and intercultural competence, according to Ripon’s Catalyst webpage.

“[Catalyst] is a big undertaking,” says Reinhart. “I can honestly say there is nothing like it anywhere else. Faculty were very devoted to coming up with something that is innovate and works.”

Ripon College’s leap into to Catalyst will serve as a model for other institutions for equipping their students with the knowledge and skills necessary for life beyond college.
“Nationally, very few places have been able to succeed in implementing what students have learned in active and engaging ways,” says Dean Wingenbach. “The new curriculum shows here how we can precisely prepare them for the modern world.”