May 22, 2024

QEP Update from the President

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier this semester, we launched a call for concept papers for our next Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which is an important part of our 2023 reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Our QEP proposal will be submitted to our peer reviewers in January 2023 in advance of our scheduled March visit.

This is a plan that should meaningfully impact our students and be focused on enhancing student learning and/or achievement. It must follow from our institutional planning and assessment processes and be within our institutional capacity to deliver effectively.

In response to the call, we received four proposals and they were all excellent. Anand Rao and Adrienne Brovero focused on civility, engagement, and argumentation through debate-centered pedagogy. Leslie Martin, Sarah Dewees, Betsy Lewis, Kelli Slunt, Julia DeLancey, and Joe Romero advocated for further realizing our aspirations around community engagement through a cohort-based program. Kelly Shannon, Jennifer Walker, Hunter Rauscher, Angela Pitts, Sandrine Sutphin, Marion Sanford, and Tevya Zukor outlined a comprehensive plan centered around well-being. April Wynn and Paul Binkley presented a vision for career development grounded in life design and the liberal arts experience. I am so grateful to each of these individuals for their contribution to this process.

As these concept papers were discussed by the Provost’s Academic Affairs Council and the Cabinet, consensus emerged around a few key ideas. First and foremost, our energy, focus, and resources should be concentrated in our capacity to recruit and retain students. Second, we should pursue and implement some of these ideas, regardless of the QEP. For example, as we recruit our next class who will be joining us in 2022, we should be doing so having created a cohort program focused on community engagement. That work should begin immediately and should not be delayed. And third, we should focus on what is possible within our current financial and human resource realities. We are not, for example, in a position to launch a new wellness initiative that would involve multiple courses and new infrastructure including the establishment of a new office.

The more we considered these proposals, however, something else emerged. The authors were telling us something important about what they hope for our graduates. They hope for our students to be able to engage in and navigate difficult conversations, particularly in these tumultuous times. They hope for our students to find spaces to do what they love and are passionate about. They hope that our students are resilient in the face of life’s challenges.And, they hope for our students to be able to translate their liberal arts experience to the world of work and life after Mary Washington.

So where does that leave us? If our last QEP focused on the first semester and the skills we believe necessary for college success (speaking, writing, and research in the first-year seminar), our next QEP should build on that effort in a student’s second semester. It should create the foundation for students to make the most of their remaining time here as they prepare for and transition to purposeful lives after Mary Washington. This means helping students learn to navigate difficult conversations, figure out what they love to do, stand resilient in the face of adversity, and have the capacity to plan and then adjust those plans as circumstances change. These are the things we talk about when we point to the virtues of a liberal arts education. They do not, however, just materialize by happenstance. We need to be intentional about how they are manifest in the college experience. To that end, we will form a summer working group that will return in the fall with a fully formed plan for realizing this vision for our students.

Thanks to all those who submitted these excellent concept papers. They have brought into sharper focus what is possible and practical in our next QEP. You will hear more about the final plan once the working group does its work.