Innovative program celebrates anniversary

Chapman Community at Kohl marks 15 years of success

Chapman-Learning-Community

By Terri McCullough

It put Bowling Green State University at the forefront of an emerging trend in higher education and brought the University national recognition, but 15 years ago it was just an idea – enhancing learning by bringing students with similar interest together under one roof in “learning communities.”

On Feb. 27, 2013, the program that started it all, the Chapman Community at Kohl, celebrated its 15th anniversary by hosting a dinner with more than 300 students, alumni, and past and current faculty of Chapman.

But more than simply commemorating an anniversary, the event marked a milestone in a journey that has put BGSU at the forefront of the learning community movement in the country and saw the University noted for its learning communities in U.S. News and World Report’s “Americas Best Colleges” for eight consecutive years.

“It has been an honor to be recognized nationally for our campus-wide commitment to service-learning,” said Dr. Madeline Duntley, an associate professor of American culture studies and sociology and director of Chapman Community at Kohl since 2008. “The College of Arts and Sciences is to be commended for continuing this important legacy and keeping the dream alive and well.”

Students at Chapman continue to thrive. A quarter of the freshman members make the Dean’s List, with a grade point average of 3.5 or above. The community attracts students from 50 majors, and 16 states. The classes are small.  Kohl Hall has 310 beds, faculty whose offices are on the main floor, a music studio, fireplace nook, computer lab, art studio, fitness room, game/TV/recreation areas, kitchen and café, tropical atrium, four lounges, a laundry room on each living floor, and three high-tech classrooms.

Along with 15 popular introductory courses, Chapman continues its emphasis on civic engagement. Students choose a one-credit, community-based service-learning course from 12 options. These classes help students network both on and off campus, working with all service areas, partnering with agencies that focus on animal and environmental issues, as well as those dealing with the needs of children, teens, adults and senior citizens.

Duntley is proud of her students and the work they do. “The students make a big impact on several nonprofit organizations in Wood and Lucas counties,” she said. “Each student dedicates 10-20 hours of direct community service as a freshman, which adds up to over 5,000 hours collectively a year. That is a significant contribution to our community and civic engagement at BGSU.”

The experience makes a big impact on the students as well. “I have learned that you don’t need to stop world hunger to make a difference in the world. It feels just as good to help one person and know you have touched them forever,” said recent Chapman student Jessica Valentine.

Nonprofit organizations that have benefited from Chapman students’ volunteerism include the American Red Cross, The United Way and Family House, just to name a few.

Headlined as a “new venture” that promised educational excitement and a holistic learning experience for freshmen, the Chapman Learning Community was introduced in an article featured in the spring 1997 issue of the BGSU magazine, At BG. Dr. Thomas Klein, then serving as a professor in BGSU’s Department of English, wrote the article which detailed the development and goal of Chapman.  

Klein credits the vision to Dr. Sidney Ribeau, who served as BGSU president from 1995 to 2008. Select faculty members were recruited to spearhead the program. Klein, Dr. Jack Nachbar, BGSU professor emeritus of popular culture, and Dr. Robert (Bob) Midden, then an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, are credited as the co-founders of the Chapman Learning Community. Klein wrote that the original goal was to enroll 200 students who would live and study together in BGSU’s first formal living-learning community, located in the newly remodeled Harshman Quadrangle’s Chapman Hall, from which the program took its name.

“We continue this vision today with the 200-plus students we enroll in our program each year,” Duntley said.

Klein was excited about the prospect. “Recruiting eight or 10 crackerjack faculty, developing a yearlong curriculum that liberates itself from a far-too-fragmented elective system – these were wishes that I had longed for,” he wrote.  Klein noted in his article that the roots of the residential-based learning community stemmed back to the 1200s at Merton College, in England. “The central purpose of Merton and other colleges that followed was to promote not only the training of mind, but also the development of character.”

In the 19th century, an elective model replaced the “living-learning” experience where faculty specialized in subjects, class sizes increased and faculty were pushed to publish. “But a few residential colleges survived within the universities and salvaged an idea that must be protected,” Klein wrote.

Thus, in August 1997, 158 freshmen became the first class of the Chapman Learning Community, living and attending most of their classes in Chapman Hall.  Faculty who taught in the program also had their offices in the same building.  Hoping to instill a sense of community among faculty and students, the originators kicked off the new venture with a canoe trip on the Sandusky River. In a recent interview, Midden recalled that canoe trip was his favorite memory of Chapman, noting his canoe was the only one to overturn, dumping him and history professor Dr. Mike Moore into the water.

During the 2004-2005 academic year, Chapman Learning Community moved to Kohl Hall, which underwent a million dollar facelift, and the program’s name was changed to reflect its new home. There was now a campus-wide emphasis on civic engagement. Chapman embraced this movement by adding a service–learning component to its curriculum.  The students favorably received this new focus.

In the 2007-08 Academic Year Assessment Report for Chapman, then-program director Midden stated, “We have found that students are more deeply engaged and motivated when they can learn by making real, meaningful contributions to communities in our region. Students have responded favorably to the pilot stage community partnership and community building projects that we have developed over the last year.”

He also noted plans to expand the co-curricular program to “integrate it with a broader range of general education courses to more fully realize the potential of this strategy for increasing student engagement and academic achievement. This will establish a stronger identify for the program focused on learning and leading through community partnership.”

Chapman continues to evolve and grow.  A recent addition includes the Chapman Leaders. Chapman Leaders are Chapman @ Kohl students who win a scholarship to study leadership. Duntley worked with longtime Chapman faculty psychology member Dr. Sherona Garrett-Ruffin to include this sophomore peer-mentor program as a diversity initiative. Duntley also continues to implement a broader range of general education courses and community-based service learning courses.  

Today, there are about 200 first-year students living in Kohl Hall and several learning communities on campus, two of which share the hall with Chapman students: La Comunidad, comprised of students interested in Spanish language and culture, and the Global Village, made up of international students and students interested in Global Studies.