Capstone Center Gives Students Essential Elements of Success

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The comments Dr. Allen Ault heard from employment recruiters formed a familiar refrain, all centering on their need for creative and critical thinkers who are strong communicators with leadership skills.

So the dean of Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Justice & Safety determined that his students would possess those “essential elements of success.”

Initially established as a series of social intelligence classes for Justice & Safety students, EKU’s Capstone Center now is expanding campus wide, coinciding with the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which calls upon Eastern to graduate informed, critical and creative thinkers who can communicate effectively.

“I had read the research and the comments from business, industry and government that college graduates did not possess the skills needed to obtain a job or succeed after they got a job,” Ault said. “I also looked at what they said was deficient – their ability to analyze problems, create solutions to problems, or communicate whatever they did effectively. We also noted that our students were very deficient in successful interviewing skills. We had to assume that a lot of this deficiency was from how they currently communicate by texting with no emotional overlay or not being able to perceive how they were being judged or evaluated and then not responding in an appropriate manner. Even if they got the job the deficit in communication skills did not allow them to be successful.”

Taking critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication and leadership skills as the foundational elements of success, the Center quickly developed a series of courses around the “Essential Elements of Success” theme. Hundreds of students at all levels have taken classes since classes were first offered in 2009.

“We do not think we should wait until they are seniors to begin the learning process of these essential elements,” Ault said. “If they can start with any of these subjects as soon as possible, especially critical thinking, that will put them in good stead while trying to get an education. Hopefully, they will use them in their college career to enable them to be better students both academically and socially. They would be able to practice them on other students, faculty and staff so that these skills will be honed by the time they do seek employment.  We believe these skills are applicable to any discipline, essential in any field of endeavor.”

Pre- and post-test research from the program’s Social Intelligence classes reveals marked improvement, Ault noted. “Anecdotally, we have heard of tremendous benefits from taking this course. The positive responses and evaluations from our students have been so rewarding.”

A sample of student comments:

“This course made my job interview a breeze, which gave me the confidence I needed.”

“My relationship with my professor is so much better since I took this class.”

One of EKU’s 1,000-plus military veterans considered the classes to be “a good next step after the transition assistance program. I also feel these classes could help my battle buddies find a sense of peace in their private lives.”

The benefits extend well beyond the classroom. One student said the classes helped him to “to talk to and understand my roommate and not get upset,” while another said they “gave me the communication skills to help save my marriage.”

In the area of effective communication, Basic and Advanced Social Intelligence are offered both semesters. In the area of leadership, the course “Leaders without Titles” was first offered this fall; because of student interest and demand, two sections will be offered this Spring.

The Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking courses are typically offered during the week at normal class times, while the Social Intelligence and Leadership courses are offered on weekends. “Students have told us that the weekend classes allow them to take regularly scheduled classes and work while they go to school, in addition to family responsibilities,” said Dr. Charlotte Tanara, director of the Capstone Center. “It also provides a time frame that enables them to earn an extra three hours credit for the semester in which they are currently enrolled.”

Projects under development include:

·         Courses to be offered both on campus and online.

·         Proposal of a capstone minor, “The Essential Elements of Success,” in collaboration with Dr. Scotty Dunlap, Applied Critical Thinking; and Dr. Rusty Carpenter, Dr. Hal Blythe and Dr. Charlie Sweet, Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking.

·         Optional graduate level courses.

“In addition to providing necessary skills for our students,” Tanara said, “these courses are offered to support the University’s effort to increase retention rates at the undergraduate level. We are also working to offer these courses as optional graduate-level courses.”

Officials are also working to offer Capstone Center courses online, beginning in Fall 2013.

“There is a lot of work to do,” Tanara said, “but we are excited about the opportunity for our students.”

For more information about the program, visit the Capstone Center in Room 287 of the Stratton Annex, or contact Program Specialist Rebecca Moore at 859-622-7873 or rebecca.moore@eku.edu.

Published on December 11, 2012