Letter to the Editor: Dixie State provost on the comprehensive polytechnic advantage

Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Nov. 21, 2019 | File photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

LETTER TO THE EDITOR — Dixie State University’s inaugural strategic plan launched in 2015 sought to transform the pre-existing organizational structures, policies and practices originally designed for a community and state college into a new organizational model applicable to the more complex needs of a comprehensive university. Nested within that plan was the 2016 decision to pivot towards becoming a comprehensive polytechnic university.

Michael Lacourse, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Dixie State University. Lacourse is the author of a series of letters to the editor about the future of the university. | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

We selected the polytechnic academic model because it relies on the DSU instructional model of “active learning, active life” adopted in 2016, focuses intently on career preparation by graduating learner-workers and best supports engagement in regional economic and workforce growth and development.

Other universities in this category include California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, Georgia Institute of Technology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Oregon Institute of Technology and many others.

DSU currently is and will continue to be a comprehensive university offering a variety of academic programs leading to associate, baccalaureate and graduate degrees, as well as certificates, badges and other forms of academic certification. DSU will continue to feature and expand liberal arts and sciences as well as professional programs in education, business, health sciences, engineering, technology and the arts.

However, while continuing as a comprehensive university, DSU will also specialize as a 21st century polytechnic university featuring three core principles:

  1. Active and applied student learning.
  2. A laser focus on student career preparation and readiness.
  3. A broad and deep collaboration with industry and organizations.

The university previously adopted active learning as a core instructional approach, but will now add applied learning, meaning that student learning will become increasingly hands-on. Instead of solving simulated problems in class, students will apply their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems supplied by our industry and organization partners.

Preparation for a professional career and becoming work-ready will begin on day one of the student’s DSU experience and will continue through their first full-time job. The aim is that students be fully prepared and ready to work in their chosen profession immediately upon graduation.

This preparation will incorporate multiple opportunities for work-based learning such as formal internships, cooperative learning, clinical education, student teaching and other experiences designed to engage students in real world settings solving real world problems.

Industry collaboration is in the DNA of a polytechnic university, amplifying the impact of applied learning and career readiness. Maintaining curriculum relevance requires a continuous flow of feedback from community partners, while those same partners are essential for supplying work-based learning experiences and for providing real-world problems for students to solve in the classroom.

We have begun the fourth industrial revolution, characterized by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological realms. For example, in a recent book, “Rethinking Humanity” by James Arbib and Tony Siba, it is noted that over the next 15-20 years:

The prevailing production system will shift away from a model of centralized extraction and the breakdown of scarce resources … to a model of localized creation from limitless, ubiquitous building blocks – a world built not on coal, oil, steel, livestock, and concrete but on photons, electrons, DNA, molecules and (q)bits.

The coming shift to localized creation using physical, digital and biological technologies aligns with the polytechnic learning model and especially the emphasis on hands-on learning. The new “makerspace” located in Atwood Innovation Plaza is just one example of where students have unlimited access to the tools and technologies for “localized creation” that will better prepare them for future success.

DSU must and will build a new type of public university uniquely designed to prepare students for the rapidly evolving world of work and citizenship. The basic principles of open and inclusive education will blend with an academic framework that is comprehensive and polytechnic, all within a campus-community ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Achieving the new and highly ambitious university mission and vision will require that DSU continue to evolve, along with advances in technological and organizational capabilities and changing social and cultural norms.

Submitted by MICHAEL LACOURSE, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Dixie State University.

Ed. Note: This is the second in a three-part series of Op-Eds from Lacourse on the future of Dixie State. Read part one here and part three here.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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