At the Center for Academic Excellence’s new home in Founders Hall, the centerpiece of the room is a large table that comfortably seats 12. It’s a gathering place for students to study, talk, collaborate and learn from one another. Most importantly, it’s a place where students can support each other’s learning.
“There’s a benefit to providing a space where students can inspire each other to achieve,” says History professor Jodi Eastberg, who in August was named executive director of the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE).
The center is an important part of Alverno’s strategic plan, featured in the Academic Excellence and Women’s Leadership category. It is home to programs that target high-achieving students, from facilitating research opportunities and conference travel to the Doherty Scholars program.
The goal isn’t to separate students from their peers but to provide resources and a community for those who demonstrate high potential and seek to challenge themselves academically. The entire campus can be transformed by these students’ success.
“We serve all of our students,” says Eastberg, who joined Alverno in 2005. “We want all of our students to be ambitious. We have to find avenues for them to be challenged so that they can do their best work.”
Since its founding two years ago, the CAE has grown in response to student demand and the competitive nature of higher education. This year, the CAE is collaborating with the College of Arts and Sciences, Instructional Services and Residence Life to operate a new living and learning community in Austin Hall, as well as information sessions and resources to better prepare students for graduate school. And it is investing in new technology for student use, such as a 3D printer.
Research is a significant part of the CAE’s mandate. It will support Alverno’s Research Center for Women and Girls, which Eastberg also oversees. The CAE further aims to facilitate at least 10 faculty-student research projects per year.
For instance, the CAE provided stipends for four undergraduate students to participate in a joint research project with the Georgia Institute of Technology. Funded by a grant from by the National Science Foundation, the project involved studying ocean life in water with minimal oxygen levels, a topic of growing importance as scientists study the effects of climate change.
The students traveled to Georgia Tech’s campus in July to learn about the project, meet their colleagues and get a sense of life at a top research university.
Upon their return to campus, the students spent the next six weeks accessing Georgia Tech’s supercomputer to sort, piece together and analyze strands of DNA. It was a comprehensive introduction to the field of bioinformatics, in which computing and mathematics are used to study biological data.
“It gave me a chance to figure out what I want to do,” says student Samantha Laabs. As a result, the Biology major is now considering a career in bioinformatics.
Eastberg’s vision for the CAE is that financial concerns not stand in the way of a student’s academic achievements, whether that’s working on research projects, studying abroad or seeking out competitive post-baccalaureate opportunities. As the CAE continues to grow and expand its resources, more of these doors will continue to open.
“I believe deeply in how great our students are,” she says. “Now we can show the world, and students themselves, the excellence of Alverno students.”
This article originally appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Alverno Magazine.