What goes on in the classroom is certainly a huge part of a student’s experience at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.
But it’s not the whole story, especially in the 21st century.
Finding a way to celebrate and recognize the entire range and scope of a student’s accomplishments during their time on campus is the impetus behind the Pathways to Distinction program being launched this year by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholars (OURS).
Pathways to Distinction allows students to work toward obtaining distinction in one of five different categories. That distinction, while challenging to obtain, is not based entirely on coursework.
Rather, the process also takes into account a student’s “extraordinary development and accomplishments” across a variety of areas including “academic, community-based, personal, leadership, global engagement, service and other experiences.”
The five categories – Engage Globally, Embrace Difference, Think Deeply, Serve Graciously and Live Courageously – match CSB and SJU’s five Institutional Learning Goals. Members of this year’s sophomore class are the first students being invited to take part in the initiative. The honors will be presented at commencement in the spring of a student’s senior year.
Each Pathway enables students to strategically decide how they want to stand out by completing required and elective criteria during their four years on campus, making it possible to award graduation distinctions that are inclusive and accessible to any student.
A training program is already in place for faculty, staff and fellow students who will serve as Pathways Guides for those who choose to take part in the program. Moving forward, CSB+SJU students will be introduced to Pathways during their First-Year Experience.
“We’ve had our five Institutional Learning Goals for a number of years,” said Lindsey Gunnerson Gutsch, the director of OURS, which is part of the new Experience Hub in the Clemens Library on the CSB campus.
“We have said that these goals are our promise to our students for how CSB+SJU will transform them. But now I think we’re truly starting to walk the walk. At the end of the day, Pathways redefines what graduating from college with distinction actually looks like. These distinctions will have real meaning to our students, our alumni and future employers of our grads here in the 21st century.”
Gunnerson Gutsch said the program has been under development for some time.
“We started working on it pre-pandemic and we officially received approval from the Academic Affairs subcommittee of the Board of Trustees in the spring of 2021,” she said. “It all started with a group of faculty and staff looking holistically at what was happening inside and outside the classroom on both of our campuses. We aimed to create guided pathways that will not only help students be intentional about how they invest their time during their four years at CSB+SJU, but also show them that we are committed to celebrating and honoring their work in and out of the classroom.”
Both Gunnerson Gutsch and Sabs Gilchrist, the Experience Hub Ambassador and Outreach Manager, said the distinctions are not meant to be easily obtained. That’s why students are encouraged to focus on working toward honors in just one of the five categories.
“The process has been intentionally designed for students to focus on one area.” Gilchrist said.
“Engage Globally, for example, isn’t just about studying abroad. If that becomes a student’s pathway into earning the Engage Globally distinction, the invitation is for them to dig deeper into how they integrate their experiences from abroad into the community here. That may look like active participation in an aligned student club and engaging in further research on a global topic. ”
Gunnerson Gutsch said the time is right to launch such an initiative.
“As we move toward Strong Integration, we’re all rethinking things,” she said. “That includes looking at how we honor students and finding ways to recognize the energy they’re investing both inside and outside of the classroom.”