Mellon awards St. Olaf $800,000 grant to enhance teaching, learning

St. Olaf College received a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to enhance teaching and learning for a new generation of students.

St. Olaf College educates students who are more diverse, more globally engaged, and more digitally connected than ever before. So St. Olaf leaders and faculty members are asking a simple question: “How can we enhance teaching and learning for this new generation of students?”

The college’s work to answer that question has earned the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which recently awarded St. Olaf a four-year, $800,000 grant to examine and improve course offerings and modes of teaching.

The project, To Include is to Excel, undertakes faculty development and curricular improvements to serve a changing student body. The project reflects St. Olaf’s abiding conviction that excellence and inclusion are inextricably intertwined.

“Our goal is to renew what and how we teach, based on a nuanced understanding of who our students are, how they engage with knowledge and areas of study, and what makes them thrive as learners,” says St. Olaf Provost and Dean of the College Marci Sortor. “Faculty members have been deeply interested in this for some time, and we are thrilled with the opportunity this grant presents.”

The project will begin by developing a deeper understanding of current and future St. Olaf students, based on a wide variety of data. Then project leaders will consider this information alongside what faculty members already know about best practices in teaching.

On this knowledge base, St. Olaf educators will pilot and assess new approaches in teaching. What they learn will guide curriculum reform at the program level. Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Mary Carlsen ’79 will direct the To Include is to Excel project.

To lay the groundwork for faculty development, the college’s Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts (CILA) will sponsor three annual “Teaching Summits” that seed and sustain collaborations among St. Olaf faculty and with partner institutions. Associate Professor of Spanish Maggie Broner will oversee the summits in her role as associate director of CILA.

“The work funded by To Include is to Excel may be the most important work being done at the college in coming years as we look to shape the learning environment for a new generation of teachers and students,” says St. Olaf President David R. Anderson ’74.