Collaborative course brings together St. Olaf and Carleton students
At first glance, the class looks like any other taught at Carleton College. The room features desks, a blackboard, and a projector. The students tote backpacks and laptops, take notes, and sip their coffee while listening to a professor in glasses and a blazer lecturing at the front of the room.
But there is one thing about them that makes this course unique: half of the students are from St. Olaf College.
The course — Political Psychology of Presidential Foreign Policy Decision Making — is the first to be offered through Carleton and St. Olaf’s Broadening the Bridge: Leading Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges into a More Collaborative Future.
The program, which received a $1.4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aims to advance collaboration between the two colleges in library services, information technology, management operations, and academic programs in order to strengthen liberal arts learning and teaching in ways that each college could not accomplish individually.
Making connections between departments
The colleges are using the Mellon grant to support faculty-led exploration and pilot activities with potential for substantive academic collaborations, both in formal classroom curricula and experiential learning. The Political Psychology course is the first collaborative class to come out of this program.
“It began as a conversation about collaboration between our department chair, Al Montero, and St. Olaf’s department chair, Tony Lott,” says Carleton Associate Professor of Political Science Greg Marfleet, who teaches the course.
“There had been some excitement about the collaboration grant, and the two began to think about how we might expand the curriculum on each side of the river by offering some additional courses.”
Excited by the opportunity to build a connection between the two departments, Marfleet volunteered to design and teach the course.
“We discussed the kinds of courses St. Olaf students might like to take given the range of offerings already, and I noticed that political psychology and foreign policy were both areas that might attract Ole enrollment,” he says. “We thought it could help Oles seeking some variety, and it might also be helpful to have additional Ole enrollment for some of the more specialized offerings that occasionally don’t fill up with Carls.”
Providing new academic opportunities
With those goals in mind, Marfleet developed a course that explores the literature on personality, cognition, and decision-making and relates these insights to U.S. presidents.
Through psycho-biographical profiles of the presidents and word-by-word analyses of presidential speeches, Marfleet wanted to show students how a president’s personality affects his (because, Marfleet points out, so far it has always been “his”) foreign policy decision-making.
“Part of the draw, at least for me, for taking this class was Greg’s expertise in political psychology, especially in view of foreign policy,” says Bayley Flint ’15, one of the 12 St. Olaf students taking the course. “That is really unique, and is something that we don’t have in the St. Olaf Political Science Department.”
Though making the course work for both Oles and Carls took some ingenuity — for instance, the course was taught on Carleton’s trimester schedule, while St. Olaf operates on a 4-1-4 academic calendar — Marfleet says getting students from both campuses working together was worth any added headache.
“It has been nice to see the students make friendships over the term, and I really wanted to have the students work on collaborative projects involving students from both campuses in teams,” he says. “That caused some issues of coordination, but it was well worth the effort. And since Carleton and St. Olaf have different mid-term breaks, rather than take both off I met with half the class each time and we watched a movie and ate pizza.”
Carleton student Nicole Nipper ’17 says having St. Olaf students in the course enhanced the diversity of perspectives during discussion.
“I really enjoyed being able to work collaboratively with a group of students who were really interested in political science concepts and issues,” she says. “Most of the individuals in the class were political science majors and most of us had different areas of interest, which really enriched the discussion and collective intelligence in the room; it was really engaging.”