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Bridges Not Walls

Randolph's Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) aims to enhance cultural understanding

Above: Several members of the QEP Committee (left to right) Beth Schwartz, psychology professor, Brad Bullock, sociology professor, Jennifer Gauthier, communication studies professor, Gerry Sherayko, history professor, Kathleen Conti ’11, and Gordon Steffey, religious studies professor, stand near the Fifth Street Bridge in Lynchburg.

For Gordon Steffey, a Randolph College religious studies professor, preparing students for today’s global society goes beyond teaching them to understand cultural differences. A member of Randolph College’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Committee, Steffey recently helped put that philosophy into words using the images of bridges and walls.

“Walls are a nice cipher for all the ways we attempt to keep cultural differences at bay,” Steffey said. “Bridges connect in a disciplined way; walls often disconnect, partition, and divide.”

The concept stuck, and “Bridges Not Walls” is now the title of Randolph’s QEP. The QEP is a five-year strategic initiative for curricular improvement that is required for reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

SACS requires a college-wide commitment to a strategy that enhances student learning. Steffey and Beth Schwartz, the Thoresen Professor of Psychology, assistant dean of the College, and a co-author of the QEP, were joined this academic year by a committee of faculty, staff, and students. The group helped the Randolph community identify intercultural competency as the QEP strategy.

“Students will be able to participate in study abroad, immersive language courses, the American Culture Program, or summer study and research,” said Schwartz. “There will be opportunities for students to develop intercultural competency whether they travel abroad or not.” Many initiatives will be new, while others will refocus existing activities. But all will help students learn to adapt their attitudes and skills to be successful in other cultures.

Members of the QEP committee felt the emphasis on intercultural competency would help students participating in study abroad to be better equipped to interact with, and learn from, their hosts. They also believed the experiences gained at Randolph would better equip graduates to compete for positions requiring the ability to work effectively within a multinational environment.

SACS will require the College to demonstrate that “Bridges Not Walls” has had a positive impact on student learning. Each incoming Randolph student will complete a questionnaire that inventories his or her understanding of intercultural issues. Just prior to graduation, the student will be tested again to measure progress.

The initiative may reflect the latest thinking in intercultural competency, but one of the College’s traditions has been to prepare students to be successful wherever in the world they choose to live and work. The QEP is new but is grounded in a core belief, committee members said.

“This isn’t really about redefining ourselves. We are refining what we are for the benefit of students and all of us. It can create amazing opportunities.” said Kelly Malone Dudley ’95, a member of the QEP team.