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University introduces new experiential learning programs as part of gradual class size expansion

Programs will focus on research, entrepreneurship, campaigns across the U.S., Berlin

The University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Promoting Financial Health and Sustainability recommended that the undergraduate class size expand by “5 to 10% through careful enrollment management” and increased participation in study abroad and experiential learning programs, according to a report released October 1, 2021

Preparations for the expansion began in the fall 2021 semester through improved tracking of on-campus housing vacancies, increased online course offerings and the hiring of an associate provost for strategy and a dean for experiential education, the report said. 

This semester, the University began implementing another part of the strategy by introducing three pilot experiential learning programs. The programs, collectively titled BE Brown, include Berlin: Research & Entrepreneurship; Boston: BioTech & Life Sciences; and U.S.: Campaigns & Social Change. While students still complete coursework, all three programs offer a six-month immersive internship experience and opportunities in multiple fields of study across differing locations, allowing more students to come onto campus. 

Pilot experiential learning programs kick off

Students who participate in a BE Brown program will take a one-credit overview course in the summer and then have the opportunity to gain four or five course credits during the fall semester — either through Brown or Humboldt University International Campus in Berlin — while they are off-campus. 

These new opportunities build off existing experiential or alternative learning programs like the Nelson Center for Entrepeneurship’s certificate program in entrepreneurship, the Swearer Center’s various community outreach programs or the UTRA and SPRINT awards, said Betsy Shimberg, senior associate dean of the college for co-curricular and experiential learning.

Shimberg explained that the University is “trying to continue some of the flexibility that emerged during the pandemic” and that these programs are necessary because of the “broad curiosities” of University students and the “interdisciplinary nature of the Open Curriculum.”

“Instead of just studying abroad for the fall,” Shimberg said, “you can now be a part of a structured experience that happens in that time frame.”

She explained that the programs are set up to involve “knowledge synthesis opportunities” and outlined how students could learn about topics like biology or philanthropy and voter engagement.

Shimberg highlighted the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s International and Science Technology Initiatives program and the co-op programs at both Drexel University and Northeastern University as models for global internship programs.

Shimberg clarified that unlike those co-op programs, the University wants students to “integrate their credits into their schedule” rather than working full-time. Her committee, she said, aimed to “rethink where, when and how students are learning” while “developing these internships to be alongside reflection opportunities.”

The programs, which are accepting applications until March 21, will begin in June and run until the end of the fall. The programs will each accept five to sixteen students.

After the programs conclude, the University will launch an evaluation plan in which they will look at “student experiences, faculty experiences, student advisors’ experiences” and other information from the programs to “build them out more” for future years. 

Deepak Gupta ’22, former Undergraduate Council of Students chair of academic affairs and a past participant in the Brown in Washington Summer Signature Program, said he thinks “it’s sort of a good thing that Brown is trying to find creative ways like experiential learning programs through which they can onboard more undergraduates.”

Gupta, who also worked on an experiential learning working committee in 2021, emphasized that he’s excited about the new programs because they’ll provide opportunities for Brown students who want a “more creative experience.”

Spencer Schultz ’22, a former University News section editor and strategy director at The Herald who also participated in the Brown in Washington Summer Signature Program, said that he thought using programs like BE Brown as one method for class expansion is “a smart route because there’s already an extreme shortage of housing and facilities on campus.”

While Gupta and Schultz participated in the Summer Signature Program virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, both stressed that they still enjoyed their experiential program, mentioning the ability to network and interact with their peers in a new environment through the program.

Schultz said he’d “like to see more programs focused on leveraging Brown’s great alumni network to connect students with internships.” He added that he hopes the new programs “are targeted towards students who are genuinely interested in doing them.”

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Shimberg underscored that the programs prioritize accessibility: The pilots are available to new and returning students, accept students with international visas, have financial aid components for students who receive University aid and incorporate accommodations for students of all backgrounds. 

“I know myself and my fellow committee members have worked a ton to make sure that these programs are thoroughly built out while at the same time meshing well with the current University infrastructure,” Gupta said. “I’m extremely excited to see how these pilot programs go and where they’re going to lead the university in the future.”

Students raise concerns about growth of student body

University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald that the University is making sure to respect the surrounding Providence community while increasing the undergraduate population.

“The goal is to marginally grow the undergraduate student body in (a way) that ‘would not strain … campus life infrastructure,’” Clark wrote, quoting from the ad hoc committee’s report.

“Growth would also come progressively over time, not in a single moment,” he added.

Clark wrote that “the full campus community was invited to weigh in on the ad hoc committee’s draft recommendations last June.” The University received 340 responses to the draft report from 88 individuals, which it shared with the committee for subgroup revisions based on community feedback. 

Gabe Mernoff ’22.5, advocacy coordinator for Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, said he supported the expansion “as a concept” because the University could help alleviate “a lot of the inequality that we have in this country” by accepting “way more students.” 

Citing his experiences as a Providence resident and HOPE member, though, he discussed how an increased student body size could lead to an increase in students living off-campus — continuing the University’s history of gentrification, especially in “low-income communities and communities of color.” 

While the plan states that it aims to grow the student body in a manner that does not “strain existing resources,” Mernoff said he thought the University would need to “build a lot of on-campus housing” to accommodate new students. He also recommended that the University “encourage people to stay on campus” rather than having them move off-campus and drive rental prices up. 

Despite approving of the growth of experiential learning programs, both Gupta and Schultz also expressed some concerns with the undergraduate population growth.

Gupta said he was hesitant about how the University would address the “different levels of resources” available in various academic departments and “the risk of certain opportunities” becoming less available to students. 

Schultz argued that the University should “address some of the shortcomings in dining and athletic facilities” before planning to increase the student body size.



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