Majors to provide input on curriculum, future changes

The University of Rhode Island’s English department has taken the next step in its plan to be more responsive to majors by beginning to implement an Undergraduate Student Advisory Board. 

The Board will have six English majors to represent the majors at large and act as a student voice for curriculum changes, new classes and other ideas in the department.

Travis Williams, the chair of the English department, said that the development of the advisory board began after the department participated in an Engaged Departments initiative with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion last academic year. 

“[Engaged Departments] is an opportunity for a unit such as an academic department to receive consultation assistance about various things that the department is trying to figure out in terms of future developments and plans,” Williams said, “particularly where those aspects of diversity and inclusion are concerned.”

Williams said that one of the suggestions from the initiative was to implement a formal student board to engage students and discuss department interests and concerns, especially as the department discusses their future plans and concerns.

“The students have interests or concerns or questions about things that are happening or that they want to happen,” Williams said. “This becomes a formal way of bringing that to our attention so that we can then consider good feedback, and perhaps move forward with the things that make sense.”

Currently, the department is in the process of gathering nominees for the roles. Williams sees the board as a way to engage the student in department-based discussions about the goals and purpose of the English department. 

Kyra Shindler, a senior English and secondary education major, said that the advisory board is a good move to increase student representation and advocacy in the major. 

“It was definitely a good step forward, especially being that we were online pretty much for the last year and a half,” Shindler said. “So it’s just nice to have representatives for the students and to have advocates for the students.” 

Williams hopes the board will encourage conversation about changes majors hope to see in the English department and an increase in student involvement after it is established.

He said the advisory board presents an opportunity to begin discussions between board members, English majors and faculty that will lead to the best possible courses to help students achieve their goals.

“How can us understanding their point of view, improve the kinds of things that we put into the approval pipeline to bring to the major and change things?” Williams said. “It should be an evolutionary process of constant cooperative dialogue between the two constituencies.”

Shindler hopes that the members of the board are empathetic and knowledgeable about the English department and can act as a resource for students.

 “I hope that this advisory board will have a positive impact on both my major and the department altogether,” Shindler said. “I hope that more people will consider taking English classes.”

Shindler feels that students may engage more with the English department as they utilize the advisory board, from professor reviews to helping students understand what they can do with their degrees in the future.

Beyond student advisory board development, Williams said that the English department is interested in implementing different approaches to teaching and grading in the future.

“We are very interested in thinking about ways in which modes of teaching, approaches to grading, approaches to assignments and things like that, can be rendered more equitable and responsive to the different learning styles that students have,” Williams said.