Objective 2: Foster “Productive Collisions” as a Defining Characteristic of Trinity University

Trinity has already begun to envision ways in which an interdisciplinary education marked by productive collisions will encourage our faculty and prepare our students to respond effectively to a complex environment. In order to ask new questions, or to gain fresh insights on enduring questions, we must draw upon a variety of perspectives. Trinity will embrace this approach in all aspects the University – including academic leadership, course offerings, and campus architecture. Our graduates will be conversant with multiple disciplines, prepared to work with people in different fields and from different backgrounds, and able to listen and communicate in writing and in speech. 

2A: Coordinate the creation of innovative courses for the First-Year Experience and Interdisciplinary Clusters within the Pathways curriculum

In tandem with the strategic planning process, Trinity faculty developed the Pathways curriculum to emphasize interdisciplinary learning for all students, including an intensive first-year experience program and course clusters that encourage students to investigate issues of enduring and contemporary significance through a variety of disciplinary lenses.  

First-Year Focus

Librarian Michael Hughes appointed to coordinate First-Year Experience at Trinity

Trinity continued its focus on interdisciplinary learning by appointing Michael Hughes ’05 to First-Year Experience (FYE) Coordinator. The FYE “was designed to engage a range of topics of widespread and enduring significance” and to foster the skills and perspectives in all first-year students that will help them excel after graduation.

As the FYE coordinator, Hughes aims to “make it easier for faculty to propose, develop, and recruit members to new [FYE] courses.” He additionally plans to “work with Academic Affairs to identify barriers [to FYE] and reduce or remove them,” in order to increase the overall interdisciplinary focus of Trinity’s curriculum.

To help enhance this FYE focus, the University provides two-day workshops that allow faculty to make curriculum decisions that develop new skills and sharpen old ones. With sessions like “New Approaches to Research” or “Critical Reading Approaches to Non-Literary Texts,” professors from all departments are more prepared to teach an interdisciplinary course. The workshops also instill a sense of shared purpose and “build a sense of community in the FYE,” according to Willis Salomon, the former FYE coordinator.

FYE increases interdisciplinary focus at Trinity as it “integrates two courses, a seminar and a writing workshop, which once had no formal relationship, producing instructional environments in which each discussion deepens understanding of the topic at hand,” says Hughes. “There are no empty exercises.”

As a main feature of the new Pathways curriculum, FYE “welcomes students from across the world, some of whom are more experienced or capable than others, but each of whom will leave the course equipped with the tools necessary to think and communicate at the level of sophistication expected by their future instructors and employers,” Hughes explains.

Pathways Curriculum Implementation Updates

2B: Integrate professional programs with the liberal arts and sciences

Faculty members from across the University recently designed the interdisciplinary minor called Arts, Letters, and Enterprise (ALE) that enables students to combine their interest in the humanities, the arts, or the social sciences with practical, business applications. This distinctive program can be a model for further developing connections between professional education, business education, and the rest of the University.

Mariana Lopez Levi worked with Opera San Antonio at the Tobin Center.

The Business of Song

Trinity ALE intern expands repertoire at Opera San Antonio

Mariana Lopez Levi ’17 has physical proof that she’s always wanted to become a music teacher. Going through old family belongings, Lopez Levi recently unearthed a self-portrait she drew as a five-year-old. Below the image a caption reads, “When I grow up, I want to be a music teacher.”

“Apparently it has been set in stone forever,” Lopez Levi says, laughing.

Lopez Levi spent the summer of 2015 as a summer intern with Opera San Antonio. A music education major at Trinity University, she secured her full-time, paid internship through the Arts, Letters, and Enterprise (ALE) program at Trinity, earning one hour of credit, utilizing free campus housing, and being mentored by a Trinity faculty member.

A singer herself, Lopez Levi says she was proud to be a member of the small team at Opera San Antonio. She says that she was drawn to the nonprofit because she was eager to learn about all of the “behind-the-scenes” work that makes an opera possible.

“I just love opera,” Lopez Levis says. “Here I’m learning a lot about the music business itself, from how to budget a production to drafting contracts to doing the casting. It’s really interesting to see the administrative work behind everything.”

While Lopez Levi says she does her share of administrative work, like fielding phone calls and making copies, she also serves as a brand ambassador for the opera. Due to Opera San Antonio’s age – it was established in 2013 – she says some people are simply unaware that the city even has an opera.

“It’s important to bring awareness that we have an opera in San Antonio,” Lopez Levi says. “I also like to share general knowledge about how big an opera production truly is.”

At Trinity, Lopez Levi is a member of the Trinity Chamber Singers, the all-female a cappella group The Acabellas, and the Mu Phi Epsilon music fraternity. From Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, Lopez Levi says that Trinity is an excellent place for anyone unwilling to settle on just one area of study.

“You can learn so much about the different things that interest you,” Lopez Levi says. “You don’t have to limit yourself to your major or one area of learning because it’s such an expansive school.”

Only just hitting her stride, Lopez Levi looks forward to bringing the skills she’s learning at Opera San Antonio back to music education at Trinity.

2C: Incorporate interdisciplinary perspectives in hiring new faculty members

Faculty appointments should strengthen key interdisciplinary programs as well as meeting departmental needs. Going forward, we will require interdisciplinary program representation on every tenure-track faculty search committee.

Hiring for the Future

Trinity aims to build a 21st-century faculty

Trinity University has revised its hiring guidelines, a change meant to help create productive collisions. The revisions began about three years ago with the hiring of Deneese Jones, vice president of Academic Affairs. The new guidelines are meant to “help to include the interdisciplinary focus into hiring” according to Lisa Jasinski, special assistant to the vice president of Academic Affairs.

These new guidelines are meant to increase Trinity’s unique ability to mix liberal arts and professional programs. The University wants its faculty to reflect the interdisciplinary focus of its students, so the administration is looking to hire “unicorns”, or educators who both excel in their fields and are interested engaging with students and other faculty through interdisciplinary programs. “We want to make sure we are hiring citizens of the community,” notes Jasinski.

The new guidelines foster improved hiring practices by harmonizing job postings across departments. For example,all postings must mention that the candidate is expected to participate in either First-Year Experience, experiential learning, or study abroad programs. Additionally, each search committee must include at least one professor from a different department in order to achieve a higher level of institutional cohesiveness.

“We’ve built shared awareness around the institution’s larger goals,” says Jasinski. “The guidelines look for ways that department goals and university goals can both be achieved. They ensure that a variety of perspectives are used in the faculty search process.”

“The idea is that people being in their own lane doesn't help us solve the hard problems that we would be looking to solve,” explains Jasinski. By encouraging an interdisciplinary focus, these guidelines aim to solve these hard problems.

2D: Enhance the visibility of interdisciplinary learning on campus and evaluate its effectiveness

Under the supervision of the VPAA, Trinity will develop and publish consistent guidelines for incorporating interdisciplinary team-teaching in faculty members’ workload. An explicit policy will enable more students to benefit from unique course offerings that leverage the interests and expertise of our renowned faculty. In addition, Trinity will facilitate other opportunities for faculty members to engage in interdisciplinary work, such as joint appointments, auditing colleagues’ courses, or exchanging places with a colleague in another department for a short period of time. Trinity will continue to adopt new strategies to best support interdisciplinary research.

Interdisciplinary courses that emphasize substantive “productive collisions” should be clearly marked in the course catalogue and appropriate student learning outcomes named on the syllabus. By amending the current course evaluation process to include specific questions and feedback on interdisciplinary teaching and learning, we will be able to continually monitor our success. As interdisciplinarity becomes an even more visible element of our campus culture, faculty will be rewarded for their efforts in the context of the promotion and tenure process and the annual performance review process.

Trinity launches Latinx major, architecture minor

Trinity has created a new major in global Latinx studies, and a minor in architectural studies.

The global Latinx studies major will build on the foundation of Trinity’s already thriving Mexico, the Americas and Spain (MAS) program, and will be housed in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Spanish professor Rita Urquijo-Ruiz says this new major is an ideal move for a university located in the heart of San Antonio.

“Trinity is located very strategically, in terms of geography. We are part of San Antonio, a city that is close to Mexico and a gateway to Latin America,” Urquijo-Ruiz says. “And because this is a majority-Latinx community, we have a great opportunity in our hands for students to learn about Latinx Studies not just in the classroom, but out in our city as well.”

The minor in architectural studies is a perfect fit for a university designated as a national historic district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and with strong ties to generational architect O’Neil Ford.

“We’re lucky to have such strong offerings in architecture, art, and urban studies, along with engineering,” says Kathryn O’Rourke, art history professor and director for the minor. “And there’s so much happening in San Antonio right now with growth and urban planning. We’re looking forward to getting our students out into the city. To have a minor like this at Trinity, it just makes so much sense.”