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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Association of American Colleges & Universities President's Symposium: Bringing Theory to Practice

Georgetown University Conference Center
November 10, 2008

Good morning, and welcome to Georgetown. We are extremely pleased to host this event…and it is always a pleasure for me to engage with so many colleagues—and friends—especially on such an important initiative.

It was John Dewey—one of the most significant champions of the idea of “learning by doing”—who once noted, “Give the pupils something to do, not [just] something to learn…and learning naturally results.”

This idea of engaged learning is the premise of the work that brings all of us together in this “Bringing Theory to Practice” Initiative. For us here at Georgetown, we are “Bringing Theory to Practice” through our “Engelhard Project: Connecting the Safety Net to the Heart of the Academic Environment.” This effort addresses student health and wellness issues through various forms of engaged learning, including community based learning, in order to reach students on a deeply personal level.

In essence, what we are trying to do here in this Georgetown program is focus on a pedagogy called “curriculum infusion,” which brings real-life college health issues into academic courses through readings, guest speakers, discussions, and assignments. It also aims to boost students’ academic performance by improving their health and well-being.

I’d like to share with you a few of our Engelhard Project efforts:

• We offer a math class in which students examine real-world applications of mathematics—the elimination of caffeine or alcohol from the body; the sustainable management of renewable resources; the managing of lottery winnings… This course also dedicates two modules to alcohol and weight control—two topics that can have major affects on the lives of college students.
• One of the most respected members of our Philosophy Department teaches a course on “Responsibility, Resilience, and Self-Respect.” This course incorporates a community-based learning component in order to breath life into the moral and psychological challenges raised in the classroom. By engaging in the local DC community, students become more aware of the ways in which philosophy and psychology can help address the everyday problems of everyday people.

• We’ve even infused our drama curriculum with mental health education. In Acting I, students are asked to create scenes based on typical college pressures. On the day of performance, our Director of Counseling and Psychiatric Services guides the students through the nuances, treatments, and statistics of the mental health issues raised.

These are just a few examples, but they give you a sense of how the courses span the disciplines. I am proud to report that since the fall of 2005, more than 2000 students have participated in 45 Engelhard courses taught by 36 faculty members—who have been prepared to participate in the project—from 19 different departments. Our goal is that by 2010 we will have every incoming student participate in an Engelhard module in at least one course by the end of her or his sophomore year. And we hope to continue to expand the program, because as Dewey also noted, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point for another.”

The Engelhard Project is very much a key step in enhancing Georgetown’s overall safety net for our students. By exposing faculty members to problems that students may experience—including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sexual assault trauma, and substance abuse—Georgetown faculty may more easily recognize students in distress and refer them to appropriate campus resources…

…And as someone who once served as Dean of Students, I know that the more comprehensive our safety net…the sooner we are able to recognize problems…and the sooner we are able to intervene, the better—the better, of course, for our students, but also for our entire community.

The Engelhard Project is a truly exciting initiative for Georgetown. By addressing student mental health and wellness through various forms of engaged learning, it does even more than enhance our ability to help our students with contemporary problems and issues. It connects students more closely with their professors and helps them understand that professors care about them as individuals—not just as students in their classes. It helps our students reach their fullest potential. And, as a Catholic and Jesuit University, it helps us fulfill our mission of “cura personalis,” or care of the whole person.

By coming together today, to collaborate…to discuss experiences…and to exchange information on many of our institutions’ “Bringing Theory to Practice” initiatives, we are helping our academic communities to both deepen and expand the reach of our individual projects—and, ultimately, helping more of our students. That’s why sitting down to talk with one another…to share with one another…and to learn from one another at this Symposium, is so important. Again, it is a privilege to have you all here, and welcome to Georgetown.


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