The LEAP Challenge and the Equity Imperative

Wednesday, January 20
8:30 am-4:45 PM

For more information about The LEAP Challenge, please see AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider's article in Liberal Education, "The LEAP Challenge: Transforming for Students, Essential for Liberal Education."

As we conclude our Centennial year at the 2016 Annual Meeting, AAC&U continues to foreground the urgency of meeting both quality learning and equity goals in mutually reinforcing ways.  We have engaged AAC&U members in this work with our eyes wide open to the genuine threats to higher education’s capacity to meet these ambitious goals so essential to the future of our democracy and economy.    Throughout the Centennial year, AAC&U member institutions have been examining practices and policies that advance quality educational experiences for all students, including practices that are particularly effective for underrepresented minority students and low-income students.

The LEAP Challenge Symposium draws directly from our members’ best work to connect quality and equity.  We invite you to bring a campus team to the Symposium and to become part of AAC&U’s LEAP Challenge effort to prepare all our students for this challenging era of complexity, diversity, and inventive change.

The Symposium is made possible by a generous grant to AAC&U from Endeavor Foundation to advance the LEAP Challenge. *

About the LEAP Challenge
Launched at AAC&U’s 2015 Centennial Annual Meeting, the LEAP Challenge takes AAC&U’s work on essential learning outcomes and high-impact practices to the next level. It provides a framework for clear guided and integrative learning pathways that prepare students for life after college through engagement in complex, cross-disciplinary problem solving. The LEAP Challenge proposes that ALL students should have meaningful opportunities to connect their broad or general learning with their particular interests by tackling complex questions that matter to the student and matter to society.  The result is students’ own Signature Work. 

Signature Work can and will vary for students in different contexts, but should always entail a cumulative learning experience where the student takes the lead in an inquiry-driven project, producing work that expresses insights and learning gained from the inquiry, and demonstrating the skills and knowledge she or he has acquired.  According to NSSE, 47% of all graduating seniors currently do some kind of culminating work in college. The LEAP Challenge to involve all students in Signature Work seeks to double that number.

Our shared future depends on our graduates becoming ready to solve twenty-first-century global problems using a variety of perspectives, and ready to work collaboratively with diverse sets of peers. The LEAP Challenge focuses on first to final year preparation for tackling such unscripted problems across general education and majors.



8:30–9:30 AM

Opening Plenary
The LEAP Challenge: Moving Equity and Accomplishment to the Center of the Curriculum

This session will engage participants with “The LEAP Challenge,” AAC&U’s call to higher education to map guided learning pathways that prepare all students—especially first generation and underserved students—to complete and succeed in applying their learning to complex questions through research, collaborative projects, supervised internships, e-portfolios, or other forms of integrative and hands-on learning.  The presenters will show where higher education is now on this goal, why employers strongly support it, and how to make it work institutionally in the context of equity-minded institutional reforms.

Carol Geary Schneider, President, AAC&U

Tia Brown McNair, Associate Vice President, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success, AAC&U


9:45–11:00 AM
CONCURRENT SESSIONS:  Bringing Signature Work to Scale

In Signature Work, a student uses his or her cumulative learning to pursue a significant project—capstone, research, field-based activity, internship, community service, experiential learning, international experience, etc.—that addresses one or more problems that matter to the student and to society.  The student selects the questions to study; takes the lead producing the work, expressing insights and learning gained from the inquiry; and demonstrates skills and knowledge acquired across his or her college education with support and guidance from faculty and mentors.  The process also involves substantial writing, multiple kinds of reflection on learning, and visible results. Furthermore, Signature Work is a required, integrated, and applied learning experience where high-impact practices have been taken to scale from the first year through the final year for all students to prepare them to complete this type of work.

These sessions will explore what a synthesis of liberal education and connected learning can look like through the lens of Signature Work at institutions of all types.  Each session features institutions in which all or most students already are doing a local version of culminating “Signature Work.”  Leaders from these institutions will share their models and discuss what they have learned about helping faculty create, implement, and sustain curricular pathways that prepare students to succeed with significant applied learning projects, even in resource-strained environments. Please join the session that represents your institutional type.


Liberal Arts Colleges

Bates College
Jill Reich, Professor of Psychology

Elizabethtown College
Susan Traverso, Provost and Senior Vice President

Santa Clara University
Erin Kimura-Walsh, Associate Director of the Lead Scholars Program

The College of Wooster
Henry Kreuzman, Dean for Curriculum and Academic Engagement               


Community Colleges

LaGuardia Community College–City University of New York
J. Elizabeth Clark, Professor of English

Middlesex Community College 
Catherine Pride, Associate Professor of Psychology

Salt Lake Community College
David Hubert, Interim Assistant Provost for Learning Advancement


Comprehensive Institutions

California State University–Monterey Bay
Daniel Shapiro, Interim Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, and Pat Tinsley, Professor of Business
PowerPoint - CSUMB Captone

University Of Wisconsin–Oshkosh
Tracy Slagter, Director, University Studies Program and Associate Professor of Political Science
HANDOUT:  Guided Pathways and Signature Work
Slagter PowerPoint

Wagner College
Lily McNair, Provost and Senior Vice President

Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Richard Vaz, Dean, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division
WPI PowerPoint


Research Universities 

Case Western Reserve University
Peter Whiting, Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, and Director,  Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship (SAGES)

Remarks:  CWRU Capstone

Portland State University
Yves Labissière, Associate Professor of Psychology and Former Director, University Studies Program

Princeton University
Pascale Maloof Poussart, Director of Undergraduate Research
Princeton University Website with additional information

University Of Nebraska
Nancy Mitchell, Director of Undergraduate Education


11:15 AM–12:15 PM
Self-Study Questions / Discussions in Roundtables (by sector)

Participants will work in facilitated groups to identify where their programs and institutions are now in relation to quality and equity, and where institutions are headed for strategic next-level planning and action.


12:30–2:00 PM

Luncheon Plenary
On the Frontiers of Innovation:  How Arizona State University is Striving to Scale Elements of the LEAP Challenge

Arizona State University (ASU) and other large research universities are using innovative changes to provide students with opportunities to engage in real world problem solving with their peers and community partners. This collaborative interdisciplinary learning is being offered to a wide-range of students across majors to advance student learning. The challenge, which ASU is striving to master, is bringing these opportunities to scale for a large number of students.

James P. Collins, Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and Environment, Arizona State University


2:15–3:30 PM

Documenting Well-Being as a Core Outcome of Students’ Engaged Learning and Inquiry-Centered Work
This session highlights national and campus-based research aimed at connecting student well-being, particularly flourishing, as an essential outcome of students’ engaged learning and inquiry. A multi-campus research study will draw connections between students’ experiences, campus climates that support personal and social responsibility, and effects on student flourishing.  

Robert Reason, Professor and Associate Director of Research and Administration, Iowa State University

Connie Flanagan, Vaughan Bascom Professor of Women, Family, and Community and Associate Dean, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Alisa Stanton, Health Promotion Specialist, Simon Fraser University

Lee Knefelkamp, Former Professor of Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, and Senior Scholar, AAC&U

ModeratorAshley Finley, National Evaluator, Bringing Theory to Practice, and Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Dominican Experience, Dominican University of California

Session PowerPoint


2015 NSSE Annual Results: Key Findings Related to Engaged Student Learning
The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) collects information annually at hundreds of colleges and universities about student participation in programs and activities for students’ learning and personal development and shares these findings in a variety of reports.  The results of the 2015 NSSE will be shared during this session—highlighting the most recent topical research and trends in student engagement – including findings about students’ feeling challenged to do their best work, participation in high-impact practices, and results regarding study time.  Participants will be encouraged to consider how results can help monitor and assure quality educational experiences for all students.

Jillian Kinzie, Associate Director, Center for Postsecondary Research and NSSE Institute


Faculty Leadership for Integrative Liberal Learning
Select participants from the Faculty Leadership for Integrative Liberal Learning Project will share information about their institutional participation in the project and the impact of the project on their campuses. 

Nancy Budwig, Associate Provost and Dean of Research, Clark University

Becky Wai-Ling Packard, Director of the Weissman Center for Leadership, Mount Holyoke College

Susan Merriam, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Bard College

ModeratorAnn Ferren, Senior Scholar, AAC&U


Getting Students Ready for Integrative and Applied Learning
Faculty from St. Edward’s University and Queensborough Community College participated in a problem-based learning and transparency focused curricular reform project to engage students in integrative and applied leaning. Faculty from this project will share their stories of curricular change.

Michael Saclolo, Associate Professor of Mathematics, St. Edward’s University

Andrea S. Salis, Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Health and Physical Education, City University of New York–Queensborough Community College

ModeratorTia Brown McNair, Associate Vice President, AAC&U


Divided Baltimore
Divided Baltimore is an interdisciplinary, team-taught, community-based forum taught for credit from multiple departments at the University of Baltimore. The courses examine Baltimore from historical, geographical, and personal contexts and then focus on understanding the forces that are at work in the present condition in Baltimore with a goal of understanding the current circumstance, making meaning of it, and imagining a different future—from the perspectives of community members, students, faculty, and staff.

Joseph Wood, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Darien Ripple, Experiential Learning Program Manager, and Sonce Reese, Graduate Student Assistant—all of the University of Baltimore

Session PowerPoint


3:45–4:30 PM

The LEAP Challenge in the Changing Digital Context

Recent digital innovations have great potential to transform learning for all students. These powerful integrative liberal learning practices put student learning at the center with new visions of educational design guided by student agency and inclusive excellence. In this closing plenary, two leaders in digital learning innovation will present AAC&U’s vision for liberal education, inclusive excellence and transformative potential of higher education’s digital opportunity.  This new approach to liberal education is equity-minded, outcomes-based, and connected to digital learning environments.

Randall Bass, Vice Provost for Education, Georgetown University

Bret Eynon, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, LaGuardia Community College–City University of New York

ModeratorCarol Geary Schneider, President, AAC&U


AAC&U is pleased to acknowledge that Endeavor Foundation (known in 2005 as the Christian Johnson Endeavor Foundation) provided the initial 2005  grant for what became AAC&U’s long-term LEAP initiative (Liberal Education and America’s Promise).  We are grateful to Endeavor and other foundations that are providing support for AAC&U’s Centennial Year:

  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • The Charles Engelhard Foundation
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • The Kresge Foundation
  • Lumina Foundation
  • Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • The Teagle Foundation
  • USA Funds

AAC&U also is grateful to foundations and individuals that have provided support for AAC&U’s growing family of LEAP Challenge projects:

  • The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations
  • Endeavor Foundation
  • Davis Educational Foundation
  • TG Philanthropy
  • Donors to AAC&U’s Centennial Fund