Rollins Launches New Curriculum

Marking the first major change in curriculum in 35 years, rFLA aims to create well-rounded and community-minded students.

Rollins has recently completed the first major overhaul of its general education curriculum since 1979.

Known as the Rollins Foundations in the Liberal Arts (rFLA), the new curriculum has launched with 29 courses. That’s the most ever new courses in a single semester, according to Claire Strom, the College’s director of general education and the faculty member who led the transition.

The program celebrated its public launching recently with competitions ranging from volleyball and singing to trivia and poetry slams. 

“I think the students felt that the old general education requirements were just a list of things that they had to tick off,” says Strom, who also is Rapetti-Trunzo Professor of History.

The new curriculum not only has inspired new courses, but it also establishes a more developmental order for studying them. This helps make the process more meaningful and logical to students. Within rFLA, faculty can be assured that their students acquire certain skills, as they move through the program.

Students go through rFLA with a cohort group. That, in turn, lessens the likelihood that, for example, fourth-year students wind up taking introductory courses just to meet a requirement during their final semester before graduation.

“You’ll know where students are academically,” Strom says. “The faculty have really seized on the excitement of this.”

Following ongoing assessment standards set by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), rFLA requires competency in four areas—foreign languages, mathematical thinking, writing, and health and wellness. Courses in those areas develop skills that can serve students regardless of their academic major or subsequent career. And the new approach still harmonizes with the Rollins mission to prepare students for “global citizenship and responsible leadership.”

First-year students will continue to begin their Rollins experience with the popular Rollins College Conference courses, which introduce students to Rollins by combining curricular and co-curricular activities that students participate in as group. Building on this concept, rFLA enables students to build a community together as they pursue courses linked by academic themes, called Neighborhoods. And administrators are working on arranging parts of the residence halls, so those in the same academic Neighborhood can become actual neighbors.

The Neighborhoods are titled: “Mysteries and Marvels;” “When Cultures Collide;” “Identities: Mirrors and Windows;” and “Innovate, Create, Elevate.” While each of the groupings offers a different focus, they all provide opportunities to learn about the humanities, arts, sciences, and social sciences.

The Neighborhood themes help students make connections between various disciplines, while allowing them to explore a topic or concept more deeply.

“The curriculum is designed to facilitate student learning among individual classes as well as within them,” Strom says. “One of the new features is an increased focus on teaching students to integrate knowledge from a variety of sources.”

This allows students to explore a topic through the lens of several disciplines that would be too big for any one department—or course—to address alone. Take for example, “Identities: Mirrors and Windows.” In this Neighborhood, students can explore the concept of identity from a variety of perspectives. Three of the courses offered this semester introduce the concept of self from a historical, literary, and biological standpoint: China’s Identity in Crisis looks at how an historical moment, the May Fourth Movement, impacted a nation’s cultural identity; American Dreams & Nightmares in 20th-century Literature uses the “American Dream” as a springboard to examine how a social construct influences our perception of self—and what it looks like when we can’t live up to that ideal; and Blazing a Genetic Trail introduces students to how our genes allow us to better understand ourselves as species.

And while these themes are explored academically, rFLA also enables students to work more meaningfully, for example, with community partners, participating in community engagement activities with the same organizations during the course of their studies.

The new curriculum also brings more opportunities for Neighborhood members to share activities as a group. Those events could include social events, entertainments, academic debates, cultural enrichment, and volunteering. The Neighborhoods have a faculty advisor called a “mayor” and at least four student community coordinators. Together, they help stimulate interest in attending plays on campus, inviting speakers to campus, and participating in light-hearted activities that encourage bonding.

One of the aims of the program is to keep second-year students from feeling a bit lost after they lose their natural cohorts—the other new students with whom they experienced campus life for the first time. The Neighborhoods with their academic and social links also help keep students engaged and excited about their college experience, said Tricia Zelaya, director of student success.

“It really makes it seamless for students,” says Zelaya, who is helping to train and manage the new community coordinators for the Neighborhoods. She said the innovative curriculum has drawn great interest at academic conferences.

Indeed, Rollins seems to be among a small group of colleges that have recently reshaped their curriculum to emphasize clearer goals and more relevant content for today’s students that will better enable them to “apply their learning in real-world contexts,” says Kathy Wolfe, a senior fellow with AAC&U who specializes in general education design and curricular reform.

“It appears to me that the rFLA model at Rollins maintains breadth of study while improving coherence, intentionality, and integrative learning—for faculty as well as for students,” says Wolfe, who is also a professor of English and former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Nebraska Wesleyan University. “The scaffolding of key skills across multiple levels (not just introductory) should better prepare students to complete high-quality work by the time they graduate.”