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Cultivating an Interdisciplinary Approach to Skills Development
One of Covenant College's recent pursuits to foster academic excellence among its students is its certificate programs for undergraduates.
Covenant has long sought to be a place that affirms the idea of an interdisciplinary education. As a liberal arts school, its core curriculum is structured to expose students to each of the major academic disciplines, including humanities, social and natural sciences and the arts. In support of this agenda, academic certificate programs move beyond the traditional collection of majors, offering unique combinations of classes on a focused topic.
There are currently seven certificates, including certificates in Arts Administration, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, Journalism and Society, Medical Ethics Consultation, Neuroscience, and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The first certificates were offered in 2019.
Dr. Bill Davis, Coordinator of the Medical Ethics Consultation certificate program, originally pitched the idea to offer certificates. After that, he said, “an outside market analysis identified undergraduate certificates as an offering that would help prospective students look twice at a school that emphasized the liberal arts.”
Davis explained that two primary purposes for starting the programs were to foster the development of student skill sets and make it easier for students to navigate internships and practical opportunities. The program especially emphasizes opportunities off-campus. Dr. Jay Green, Interdisciplinary Program Coordinator and professor of history, likens the certificate programs to “interdisciplinary minors.”
Dr. Heath Garris, Coordinator for the Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability program, said that "they differ from more traditional certificate programs [which] confer external recognition from an academic society or government agency to credential professionals." While not accredited by outside institutions, Covenant's certificates do encourage students to explore new topics such as medical ethics, entrepreneurship or journalism.
Several of the certificate programs also provide opportunities directly in their field of focus. For medical ethics consultation, students will work closely with professionals in medical ethics. Here they will join in ethics committee conversations to practice what is learned in the classroom. Pairing coursework with practicums is meant to “help current and prospective students see what they might do with a major,” Davis said.
Students who have completed the medical ethics certificate may have unique opportunities to join in critical decision making on behalf of others in various situations, such as health crises or difficult seasons of life. The skill to think and act critically during crises or moments of intense suffering is increasingly relevant not only to health care but also to those in an aging society in need of ethically-sturdy pastoral care.
Practicums are a key piece in several of Covenant's certificate programs, including the programs for TESOL, Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, and Entrepreneurship. Those in the stewardship and sustainability program will complete 40 hours in an environmentally-relevant public service with a local community partner such as the Lookout Mountain Conservancy or the Chattanooga Audubon Society. For students interested in sustainability, community partnership, and the environment, this is an excellent opportunity to network and gain practical experience.
Those who choose to learn entrepreneurship with Leda Goodman will identify problems in the world around them as they prepare to form teams, write and pitch team business plans, and use business model generation tools, such as the CO.STARTERS canvas. Program participants will also be considered for a scholarship to spend a week in California with the Praxis Academy, a community pioneering redemptive entrepreneurship in everyday business and innovation.
Another attractive aspect of the entrepreneurship certificate program is the Seed Project, which should re-launch in the next year. The Seed Project consists of drafting a business plan and pitching it in competition for up to $10,000 of start-up capital. The beauty of this certification is that it complements all majors and builds on what alumni have been doing organically for decades.
Most importantly, the certificate programs expand what students see themselves doing in society during and after college. Many of the certificate programs provide a direct route for students to engage in public life. Some students at Covenant may find themselves tempted to define the college experience by their academic major. Certificate programs offer a way to be creative with a model of education that is dominated by selecting and adhering to a single major. This promotes the construction of diverse narratives for what a liberal arts experience could look like.