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Students interact during a Quest I USP course in fall 2013.

Students interact during a Quest I USP course in fall 2013.

Students at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh have always had a strong connection to the greater Oshkosh community.

They live here. They work here to propel their academic and athletic careers. They volunteer and help support regional causes. And they have long turned to our area communities’ neighborhoods, waterways, businesses and nonprofits as classrooms, learning laboratories and experience-boosters.

In the 2014-15 academic year, UW Oshkosh general education students and the faculty who have designed an array of new, engaging, buzz-generating courses will be strengthening that campus-community classroom connection like never before.

UW Oshkosh’s nationally-lauded and highly regarded transformation of general education into the University Studies Program (USP) will send approximately 800 to 900 sophomore students out into the community. Faculty members teaching courses within “Quest III” of the USP will be connecting their content (topics, for example, range from developing sustainable food to the history of philanthropy) with local nonprofits and other agencies, giving hundreds of sophomore students incredibly high-impact learning opportunities well beyond the conventional classrooms’ walls.

“I think the USP program gives a new excitement to general education,” said UW Oshkosh student Nathan Witman, one of a small group of USP pioneers that coordinators are following through the program’s path and have dubbed “Explorers.”

“Quest III is, no question, one of the most innovative and collaborative facets of the USP,” said Tracy Slagter, USP interim director and political science professor at UW Oshkosh. “With the help of the USP’s alumni mentors and an array of organizations including food pantries, farms, domestic violence support agencies and community centers, our students in this nationally-distinct program will benefit from incredible learning partnerships.”

A look back: Time lapse video of Quest I “Art 101” installation in Priebe Gallery…

 

For the nonprofits, agencies and community partners, it’s an opportunity to introduce UW Oshkosh students to their missions. UW Oshkosh alumni mentors – volunteer graduates who are leveraging their own unique experiences and backgrounds to enhance the learning opportunities — will also help cement the connections and reinforce the value of this new educational experience. It’s one more way UW Oshkosh — working in collaboration with its home community — is supercharging the value and impact of general education and more strongly connecting it to students’ majors and lifelong learning.

Quest III is specifically designed to “introduce students to civic action, community partners and real-world challenges while they complete a campus or ‘Community Experience’ related to their final “Signature Question” – one of three foundational questions that the USP is built upon: “How do people understand and create a more sustainable world?” “How do people understand and engage in community life?” and “How do people understand and bridge cultural differences?”

Students’ Quest III projects involve 14 to 20 hours of experiential learning. The projects will prepare students by providing more substantive civic learning connecting to majors and igniting a passion for community involvement and leadership that will serve them and others well beyond graduation.

In the 2014-15 academic year course “Business 275: Sustainability: The 21st Century Business Strategy,” students will examine “sustainability with a focus on strategies for organizations, emphasizing the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit),” according to the USP course description. “This course shows how the strategy of an organization affects operations and employees, as well as the broader community, and ultimately, the planet. Students will partner with Oshkosh nonprofit, sustainable food organization Growing Oshkosh and “assess the organizations’ operations, their supplier and customer network.”

In the Art 236 course titled “Experience Mapping,” USP Quest III students will work with users of the Oshkosh Senior Center “to make maps and information graphics that address the concept of sustainability by illustrating connections between people and place, nature and the built environment, meaning and experience. The goal of this community experience is to develop a deeper sense of place for the location you’ve found yourself spending serious time in: Oshkosh and its environs,” the USP course description details. “We will do this by interviewing and mapping the life experiences and memories of long-time Oshkosh-area residents…”

Those are just two of the more than 30 Quest III courses ready to offer in the 2014-15 academic year.

“Our faculty members have worked incredibly hard and thoughtfully with our USP team to create and launch these deeply valuable Quest III courses,” said Mike Lueder, USP coordinator for civic engagement. “We are excited to see students flourish and the community embrace the program as it weaves a new, high-impact general education experience into the fabric of Oshkosh and the New North. The student projects we will showcase later in the semester will be fantastic to see. The program is truly a win-win-win for our students, for UW Oshkosh and for the communities we call home and serve.”

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Editor’s note: This story was originally shared in the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce’s 2014-15 annual directory

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