The Johnston Center for Integrated Studies provides an individualized approach to higher education. To parents and peers accustomed to College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Redlands, it may seem a nebulous alternative. However, the process of constructing the sophomore contracts of incoming Buffalo (as the students of the center are affectionately referred to) is an involved undertaking that requires the guidance of both faculty and peers.
The process of entering the Johnston Center’s academic program requires a student to title his or her emphasis – a synthesis of all of the student’s academic interests into an interdisciplinary title he or she creates themselves. This takes the place of a major title like Creative Writing or Global Business. The student then composes a personal narrative outlining his or her reasons for applying to the center and methods of utilizing its academic program. Finally, the student constructs a personalized curriculum of courses addressing a breadth, depth, and cross-cultural experience in his or her education, and at the end of this process the student meets with a Graduation Contract Committee comprised of university faculty and students who advise and approve the contract. These are the steps sophomores Bria Kates and Clarissa “Chevvy” Jenkins have recently undergone in their journey of alternative higher education in the Johnston Center.
For incoming Johnstonites, crafting the final title for an emphasis may be a journey of discovery spanning their entire college career. The process begins with a single-semester First Year Seminar (FYS) for prospective Johnston students. In this first year, students are invited to “explore interesting curriculum” before finding a discipline they wish to invest their education in. After a meeting with their faculty advisor to discuss their ideas, students spend the summer and the following Fall semester of their sophomore year drafting a contract for their education.
However, Kates and Jenkins’ path to a Johnston education arose from more innate circumstances. Neither of them began their journey in the Johnston FYS, rather they entered a transfer seminar with ideas of their respective academic pursuits. Kates’ was drawn to the U of R by the unique opportunity the Johnston Center has to offer. What’s more, her end goal was already in sight: becoming a therapist for teenagers in residential treatment centers. Her emphasis then formed around this goal, with a distinct focus on storytelling, which was inspired by her FYS called “The Story of my Life: Through the Lens of French Autobiographical Text and Film.”
“[In my FYS] I understood how healing it was for those authors to write down their experiences looking retrospectively in hopes of finding some discovery about why they do what they do, or what their purpose is,” Kates said.
The final title for Kates’ emphasis, “The Art of Storytelling,” arose from a chance encounter with social activist Wazina Zondon, who spoke on the Redlands campus.
“When [Zondon] spoke on ‘Coming out Muslim’ at the university in the Spring of 2017 her entire performance was based around the importance of storytelling,” Kates said. “We tell our stories to take accountability … to process, to connect, to relate to others, to provoke controversy and discussion, and to find healing. ”
For Jenkins, the creation of her emphasis is a matter of grafting the major she had already decided upon, Global Business, with her other interests, to ultimately craft an emphasis entitled “Ethical Global Business and Economics Through Quantitative Analysis.”
“I didn’t like the limitations or the intimidation that came with the things I wanted to do,” Jenkins said. “I also want to place a bigger focus on mathematics, the statistical side of business, and I also want to advance my French … It got the point where if I wanted to stay within the normal CAS system I’d have to major in global business and math and minor in sociology and French.”
Each emphasis attempts to encompass the full range of disciplines a student seeks to incorporate in their curriculum, which is expected to incorporate the three components of a liberal arts education.
“From a faculty point of view, you’re looking for depth, breadth, and a cross-cultural experience,” said Julie Townsend, the Director of Johnston and a professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities. “But it’s true that it’s not just done in a tunnel. We’re also looking for ways in which you’re taking what you’re going to study, and you’re engaging either the Johnston community or other communities. Johnston students are often thinking about their participation in clubs and organizations and community service … as integrated within their path of study.”
Kates cites english, psychology, philosophy, sociology, creative writing, race and ethnic studies, biology and religion in her list of academic fields she intends to synthesize, while Jenkins lists business, economics, political ideologies, quantitative analysis, and human and nature relations.
This customized curriculum is justified in a narrative that attempts to answer the “why” and “how” of entering the Johnston Center. This is an open-ended self inspection of the student that can come in a variety of forms, page lengths, and topics, but ultimately attempts to introduce the student’s personal projected journey in the construction of their alternative education.
For example, Jenkins’ interest in an ethical approach to business is explained in her narrative to have arisen out of the economic climate in her hometown of Olympia, Washington.
“For years I have watched local businesses downtown fail while the mall right outside of downtown continues to grow,” Jenkins writes. “Locals try to express themselves and exercise their rights through cultural or art festivals and peaceful protests, while the diplomatic capitalists shoot them side glares, pull their kids closer, and call the locals ‘hippies.’”
These three components – emphasis, curriculum, and narrative – comprise the basic structure of the sophomore contract, which Townsend describes as “the best picture a student can provide of what they plan in that moment.”
Townsend emphasized that it is understood by the student that they are not married to the exact specifications of the contract once completed. After the contract is compiled and finalized, the student moves on to what is considered “one of the most significant passages in the Johnston student’s education” – the Graduation Contract Committee Meeting.
The meeting convenes in the living space of Bekins Hall, the community hub of the Johnston Center. Alongside the individual student, the committee is comprised of the faculty advisor to the student, three volunteer faculty members from the university, registrar Teresa Area, and two Johnston students who have already been through the contracting process. The meeting itself is a casual setting in which the advisor presents the student, who then speaks briefly about their contract. The committee then begins to ask questions, make suggestions about the course list, comment on the narrative, and so on in order to help the student refine their plan to include sufficient breadth, depth, and cross cultural experiences.
A committee’s discussion will take multiple directions, such as the elimination of certain coursework – for Jenkins, two committee members agreed accounting would not be as applicable to business and economics as she presumed – or additions – Kates was encouraged to incorporate her fourteen years of dancing experience into certain forms of physical therapy – as well as exploring the most beneficial study abroad options available. Paris and Morocco were debated in Jenkins committee for the best options benefitting her interest in French and the fashion industry.
At the end of the hour-long session, the committee concludes by presenting strong suggestions to the student about what needs to be adjusted in their contract, and stipulations about what must be done in order for the committee to accept the contract and officially induct the student into the center’s academic program. Strong suggestions are common, such as Jenkins’ dropping an accounting course. Both Jenkins and Kates were spared stipulations, and praised for addressing all the essential components in their contracts.
With this final step, registrar Teresa Area recaps the meeting with the notes taken throughout the session, and the student receives a round of applause from their committee for becoming official students of the Johnston Center.
photo courtesy of Redlands Bulldog photographer Caillie Roach