Debating Impact

Trustee S. Georgia Nugent Makes the Case

Deborah Dudley

The debate on the value of higher education in our society is as old as many of the institutions of higher learning themselves. As a four-year liberal arts institution with a 161-year history, St. Lawrence actively participates in this debate, by making a difference at the local, national and international level. For S. Georgia Nugent, St. Lawrence University Trustee since 2013, the impact of colleges and universities is best illustrated by the engaging programs, at St. Lawrence University and many other independent colleges and universities across the country, that contribute new dimensions to students’ learning. She discussed these in an August Huffington Post article “The College Students You Aren’t Reading About,” as well as at last spring’s Laurentian Leadership Society Dinner in New York City.

Nugent’s role as a senior fellow at The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) has given her an inside look at how St. Lawrence, along with 650 other small- to medium-sized private colleges and universities, are leading the discussion on the future of higher education and how they are introducing innovation, as they continue to re-imagine liberal arts education for the 21st century.

Her work with the CIC includes a public advocacy campaign and organization of a series of eight workshops held around the country, with more than 120 participating institutions, titled “Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education.”  Her Huff Post piece was in response to an opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, countering Wood’s assumptions about college students with tangible illustrations of how colleges and universities are very much in alignment with America’s best principles, not opposed to them.

“Most distinctive about this generation of college students is their desire to serve,” Nugent writes. “For example, an increasingly popular type of course is community-based learning (CBL). Classes are designed to link the classroom curriculum with a practical need in the local community, enabling students to put their learning into action….St. Lawrence University, a liberal arts college in the North Country region of New York, offered 17 such courses last year, enrolling 275 students, engaging 30 community partners, and logging more than 7,000 hours of activity in the community.”

Nugent has a unique understanding of the complexity of liberal arts institutions with long legacies, having served as president of Kenyon College from 2003 to 2013 as well as serving as a St. Lawrence trustee. “The trick, of course, is to balance tradition and innovation in a way that honors institutional values while also reaching toward the future. St. Lawrence is doing that.”

At the New York City Laurentian Society gathering, Nugent pointed out areas in which St. Lawrence is ahead of the curve. The list is long and varied: collaboration between faculty and administrators to develop new curriculum such as the Business in the Liberal Arts major; embracing citizen-science and technology in the Nature Up North program; extensive support for undergraduate research through grants and fellowships both on and off campus; Sophomore Bootcamp to jump start career planning and readiness early in student’s college career; community engagement through programs like the SLU PIC, an Americorps-style community-based programming; and CBLs or community-based learning components designed in tandem with major and minor courses.

“This is a student generation actively seeking to serve their fellow citizens and aspiring to make the world a better place,” writes Nugent. “Just the type of young people we can expect to become ‘worthy civic and political leaders.’”

Read the full August 14, 2017, Huffington Post article.

Trustee S. Georgia Nugent