The impetus for reform was generated by three major reports issued
in 2001: a comprehensive review of the University's general education requirements, conducted by the Committee on Educational Programs;
“Education through Experience,” a report by the President's Commission on Undergraduate Life; and a task force report, written by faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences, that proposed the basic design for SAGES. After a series of faculty forums, the College approved a three-year SAGES pilot in January 2002. Nine months later, 150 entering students— from the Schools of Engineering, Management, and Nursing as well as the College of Arts and Sciences— were enrolled in SAGES seminars.
When CWRU President Edward M. Hundert took office in January 2003, he called for full implementation of SAGES by Fall 2005, and announced the creation of the Presidential Fellows program to attract seminar leaders from the professional schools and the larger community. That summer, a University-wide task force offered the most comprehensive statement to date of the rationale for SAGES, as well as a set of strategies for achieving full implementation.
A SAGES Manifesto
Like its predecessors, the SAGES task force addressed two questions about the undergraduate experience at CWRU. What do we hope for from our students— intellectually, socially, and ethically? And what sort of curriculum will prompt students to share and achieve these aspirations?
The answers constituted a SAGES manifesto:
As the CWRU undergraduate develops into a learned member of society, he or she should be able to conduct scholarly research or pursue other creative endeavors, first under the mentorship of our faculty, then as independent scholars and ultimately as mentors to those who follow. ... Achieving this ambition requires that the student master essential skills while a member of our community. Ultimately a CWRU student should, well before graduation, be able to define a problem, critically research background material, and communicate an effective argument or response to that problem. The response could involve written or oral presentations or any number of artistic endeavors that seek to affect the thinking of other people.
Endorsement of the Seminar Approach
Along with other leading research universities, CWRU had concluded that seminar instruction, especially during the first semester of an undergraduate career, was the best means of realizing this vision. An influential endorsement of the seminar approach had appeared in the Boyer Commission's 1998 report, “Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities”:
The focal point of the first year should be a small seminar taught by experienced faculty. The seminar should deal with topics that will stimulate and open intellectual horizons and allow opportunities for learning by inquiry in a collaborative environment. Working in small groups will give students not only direct intellectual contact with faculty and with one another but also give those new to their situations opportunities to find friends and to learn how to be students. Most of all, it should enable a professor to imbue new students with a sense of the excitement of discovery and the opportunities for intellectual growth inherent in the university experience.
In the same spirit, the Boyer Commission declared that research must be integrated into the undergraduate experience— that students, under the guidance of faculty mentors, must create knowledge, not merely absorb it. Such research activity would culminate in a senior capstone project, in which students demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind they had acquired throughout their college experience.
The ideas of this larger reform movement helped inspire the creation of SAGES, and they provide a context for exploring the program's essential features:
- SAGES introduces all undergraduates to the seminar approach in their first year. Unlike most "freshman seminar" programs, however, SAGES doesn't stop there. The First Seminar is followed by three additional seminars— two of them interdisciplinary, and one typically centered in a student's major field of study. In this way, SAGES places active, inquiry-based learning at the heart of a CWRU education.
- SAGES students develop essential communications skills over several semesters by participating in seminar discussions, giving presentations, and writing intensively. In the SAGES program, writing is not an isolated activity. Instead, it partakes of the intellectual vitality of the seminar (and, ultimately, the capstone) experience.
- Under SAGES, every undergraduate has a faculty mentor from the moment he or she arrives on campus. The First Seminar leaders double as advisors to the students they teach, introducing them to the culture and resources of the research university and establishing close relationships with them from the very first semester.
- The SAGES curriculum, in combination with CWRU's strong and distinctive majors programs, offers our students the best of the small-college experience along with the opportunities of a research university. As a result, these students are better equipped to move into postgraduate training and the job market and to become leaders in their fields.
- SAGES students explore the vast cultural and scientific resources of University Circle. They attend special lectures and presentations, and pursue research opportunities, arranged through SAGES' partnerships with major institutions such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
- CWRU faculty members teach all First Seminars and most subsequent seminars. In addition, students have opportunities to learn from guest scholars, and from professionals in diverse fields, who have been drawn to CWRU by the Presidential Fellows and Dean's Seminar Fellows programs.
- The ultimate goal is for all CWRU students to gain experience in defining a problem and then developing a response to that problem, whether this involves research or artistic creation. SAGES accomplishes this goal by having all undergraduate students complete a capstone project —individually or in small groups— under the guidance of faculty mentors.
By these means, SAGES fulfills the educational mission of the research university as described so powerfully in the Boyer Commission's report:
The research university owes every student an integrated educational experience in which the totality is deeper and more comprehensive than can be measured by earned credits. The research university's ability to create such an integrated education will produce a particular kind of individual, one equipped with a spirit of inquiry and a zest for problem solving; one possessed of the skill in communication that is the hallmark of clear thinking as well as mastery of language; one informed by a rich and diverse experience. It is that kind of individual that will provide the scientific, technological, academic, political, and creative leadership for the next century.