One of the really enjoyable parts of my work is visiting classrooms. I do this to keep in touch with students and faculty, and to maintain a sense of what is happening, from changes in teaching to student needs to the mood around FPU campuses.
Two weeks ago I visited three classes in the Merced Campus and was again delighted by what I experienced. Just in case anyone is wondering, I do not show up unannounced, and I don’t make a big presentation. I sometimes introduce myself and say a few words, but often I try to slip into the back and just observe quietly for 20-30 minutes. I am sure some of the faculty are nervous, but they do not show it and are always gracious.
The three classes I visited were all degree completion programs: one in liberal arts, one in early childhood development and one in the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. Aside from learning something in each (how much blood the heart can pump in a few minutes, how to do improvisation in theater and the difference between childcare in the U.S. and in Scandinavia) I was, as I always am, struck by two things.
First I was struck by the level of discussion among the students. These are students who bring a different set of skills and experiences to the classroom than a traditional student. They are focused and usually not timid about speaking up. They easily relate the topic of discussion to work or other experience. In the case of the BSN class, they informally compared patients they had cared for, reactions to certain kinds of care and how this was related to the physiology of the heart. I, of course, was lost most of the time, but delighted by the depth and detail with which they examined the topic.
Second, I appreciated the dedication and experience of the instructors. Each was a specialist in their topic. All, on the evening of my visit, were practitioners in their fields. In each case the instructor used personal examples to illustrate and explain the topic and easily demonstrated as needed. The ECD instructor was a professional counselor teaching child development. She drew comparative experiences out of the students, and drew upon her own experiences to guide them. Instructors in our evening programs, both graduate and degree completion, usually specialize in one or two topics. They are chosen by FPU academic program directors (normally full-time professors) because of their dedication, experience and knowledge.
The Central Valley of California, our region from Bakersfield to Merced, has the lowest percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees in the state, and one of the highest rates of residents with associate degrees or some college. Ours is an area of high need for university-level education designed for those who, because they are working or for other reasons, cannot attend a traditional university. Observing our students and professors in Merced reminded me of why we have made this form of education central to our educational mission and our new strategic plan.
That mission turns workers into professionals. It raises individuals, families and communities out of poverty. And FPU’s commitment to blending biblical values and broad thinking through the liberal arts and sciences into each of our programs helps graduates see the sometimes hidden relationships and opportunities in the personal and professional situations they encounter.
The Central Valley needs FPU graduates. Our professors and students demonstrate over and over why those graduates are so effective and influential wherever they serve, here in the Valley or around the world.