Unity College reinventing how students receive first two years of college

TERRAIN uses Expeditionary Learning as its educational model. (contributed photo)

Unity College is nationally known for its experiential education, but this fall the college is taking that to the next level, by reimagining its curriculum for students in their first two years. The fall of 2019 saw the launch of a testbed for TERRAIN at Unity College, which is designed for students to develop career-focused skills beginning on day one.

TERRAIN at Unity College is a direct response to the changing demographics and needs of residential learners in the first two years of college. Nationally, roughly 30 percent of freshmen drop out after their first

year. Anxiety and depression on college campuses are on the rise, and there is an increasing demand for return on investment for students once they graduate with a four-year degree and enter the job market or pursue graduate school.

Faculty and staff spent two years developing the co-curricular activities that have become TERRAIN at Unity College, gaining insight from students on how they want to learn, as well as employers on the skills they seek in ideal employees.

TERRAIN uses Expeditionary Learning as its educational model, with innovative and integrated courses where students receive comprehensive, relevant, and outcome-based opportunities to help build or retool their knowledge and professional skills in sustainability fields.

TERRAIN brings an integrative approach to learning, allowing students to learn where they live in Living Learning Communities. Cohorts of students share academic experiences and projects in addition to social and recreational opportunities centered around a theme or real-world challenge.

Of Unity College’s incoming Flagship class of 223, 61 students are participating in this fall’s testbed, and in the fall of 2020, all incoming Unity College students will take part in TERRAIN.

“We listened to the challenges that students face in the first two years of college, to industry leaders in the green economy who hire our students, and did extensive research, which found that TERRAIN would revolutionize our curriculum and appeal to residential students who want to learn career-focused skills beginning the first day they enter Unity College,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “TERRAIN allows students to explore a range of professional opportunities, which will help them build the foundational skills for their careers and graduate school.”

In TERRAIN, students will:

  • Learn from guest speakers and field experts in the residence hall lounge while exploring ideas they’re curious about.
  • Participate in multi-day excursions in locations across the state and country to put new knowledge into practice.
  • Work with tutors right in the residence halls to strengthen skills and refine projects. Develop and practice leadership skills.
  • Collaborate with others in the Living Learning Community to explore issues, tackle challenges, and communicate ideas across academic, professional, and social contexts.

In addition to TERRAIN’s customizable curriculum, internships, practicums, and short courses offered year-round, its four-quarter academic calendar allows students to engage in a robust residential college experience while having the flexibility for work, family commitments, and career opportunities. If a student wants to accelerate their education and earn a bachelor’s degree in fewer than four years, TERRAIN gives them that option, or if they want to participate in a more traditional college schedule they can. It also allows them to take time off for any reason, if they need to without falling behind.

“Learning those practical skills that I can apply to my major first before I settle down into a desk with a textbook was my main goal,” said Savannah Sedivy, a first-year Marine Biology major taking part in the TERRAIN testbed. “Being stuck in a general classroom, even if you’re using real-world examples, doesn’t compare to actual real-world experience. With these intertwined classes, TERRAIN has pointed me toward skills that I’ll use later in life, or even the very next day.”

For more on TERRAIN at Unity College, visit unity.edu/terrain-at-unity-college/.


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