Student Association’s new initiative focuses on educational experience at Rice

Rice University’s Student Association (SA) is working to expand applied, direct and experiential learning opportunities and improve the university’s overall student experience, thanks to a new enterprise, the Rice Education of the Future (REF) initiative. The initiative’s recommendations are available online at http://sa.rice.edu/ref.

Members of the Rice Education of the Future initiative organizing committee

Stemming from the Student Vision for the Second Century, the initiative was developed last fall to address key aspects of the Rice undergraduate experience, including academics, extracurricular activities, mentorship and social life.

“The initiative is geared toward aligning the Rice experience with the current priorities and needs of students through the consideration of two points of interest: changing the holistic Rice experience to include the activities and experiences from which students derive the most value and realigning the current Rice experience, rather than adding to and overwhelming it,” said SA President and Martel College senior Ravi Sheth.

SA President Ravi Sheth

An organizing committee of 10 students developed seven recommendations to improve the Rice student experience.

“Over the course of the (fall) semester, we were able to engage with a significant portion of the Rice community,” said McMurtry College senior Trent Navran, who headed the committee. “Our efforts were geared toward encouraging an active and critical conversation related to identifying key ways in which the educational experience could be enhanced.”

The committee solicited feedback through the SA-supported “Survey of All Students,” which had a 99 percent response rate; 10 discussion groups of students, faculty and staff on topics such as mentorship, teaching, alumni and Houston community, expanded resources, integration and academic improvements; a town hall meeting to synthesize and generate consensus around key recommendations; and a second survey of 400 students to assess students’ support and priorities for the final recommendations.

The report recommends:

  • Creating new undergraduate courses that focus more on applied, direct and experiential learning.
  • Creating a “Rice Owl” platform – an interactive digital hub of alumni and current undergraduates that provides profile information, career paths and potential relationships based on shared interests.
  • Forming an inward-facing entrepreneurship organization and space.
  • Endowing chairs for teaching excellence.
  • Creating an alternative Rice degree track that emphasizes experiential learning.
  • Restructuring course evaluations to include teaching innovation.
  • Requiring a teaching excellence letter in the Promotion and Tenure Dossier.

Navran said he and other members of the committee were thrilled to see the positive response from students, faculty, staff and administrators alike. “Everyone seemed very willing to share their candid thoughts and be a part of the campuswide conversations,” he said.

Navran said this semester he and the REF committee members will work with administrators and the Rice Board of Trustees to evaluate the recommendations and explore opportunities for action on them.

“Recommendations vary greatly in terms of scope, timeline and potential cost,” he said. “Many of these ideas stand to immensely enhance aspects of the Rice experience.”

President David Leebron said he was thrilled to see such a thoughtful and thorough student-driven process around the future of a Rice education, one that complemented discussions underway among faculty and the administration.  He also noted that some of the Student Association’s recommendations very much align with the goals of Rice’s Initiative for Students that was recently launched.

“We know that our students greatly value hands-on learning experiences like those offered by the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, laboratory research and international travel for research and education,” Leebron said. “Our Initiative for Students should enable us to create more of those learning opportunities that make a Rice education so distinctive and beneficial. These efforts are important not only because this type of education is what today’s Rice students want and expect, but because we know that they truly seize the opportunities that we make available.”

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.