The College of Education Studies (CES) celebrated its one-year anniversary on Wednesday, April 14.
The CES is an interdisciplinary department that aims to help students learn about systems of education. In addition to combining education with history, psychology, and philosophy, CES students are expected to engage in hands-on practicum experiences designed to apply the concepts learned in class to a professional education-related environment.
According to CES Co-Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman, the program can be tailored to each students’ individual interests.
“[Students develop] practical expertise and pedagogical knowledge. [For example,] if you want to be a researcher, [you can develop] on-the-ground skills with quantitative and qualitative analysis; if you want to be a policy analyst, [you can get] some on the ground training on how to do policy analysis…having the complementary side of the liberal arts and the University,” Shusterman said.
Overall, the CES faculty are impressed with how the department has grown over the last year.
“I’m most amazed at the very substantial growth in the numbers of minors and majors we’ve seen in a year, and [I’m] looking forward to having additional faculty and an actual space on campus where the College can reside and build community,” Associate Professor of the Practice in Education Studies Amy Grillo wrote in an email to The Argus.
Similarly, CES students are surprised by how the department has developed into a program that is open to all University students regardless of academic areas of interest.
“It’s crazy to hear honestly,” CES major Billy Bannan ’21 wrote in an email to The Argus. “It feels like just yesterday the proposition of the college was a dream rather than a reality. And since then, the College of Education has made such major steps in its development and cultivation of a welcoming environment for all students at Wes.”
According to CES major Gabby Baba-Conn ’22, the past year has given students clarity and insight into the department.
“I was incredibly excited when it was announced that we were approved for the major because it was a really big group effort of a lot of people, and I felt proud to be in one of the first guinea pig classes, so to speak,” Baba-Conn wrote in an email to The Argus. “One year later, I definitely feel more grounded in the education major just because I am more aware of the requirements and things like that whereas at the beginning we were all in the dark.”
The process for implementing the CES department began approximately ten years ago, when students voiced their interests in education studies to University faculty, including current CES Co-Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology Steven Stemler. Eventually, students began to actively urge the University to create programs that would support the study of education and learning. The program now has amassed student, faculty, and alumni engagement.
“There’s a lot of student interest, there’s a lot of alumni interest, there’s a lot of faculty interest, and then we [got interest from a] superintendent of schools in Middletown and around that time, maybe four or five years ago now,” Stemler said.
As the department grew, faculty members from various academic backgrounds expressed interest in teaching classes in the CES. Additionally, the University has reached out to a number of faculty members from various schools and University-affiliated offices to instruct CES courses.
“It was really exciting to sort of see, ‘Wow, what a perfect match, [a] liberal arts institution like Wesleyan can pull this amazing community together of people who don’t necessarily self identify as education focused people,’” Stemler said.
According to Grillo, a large facet of forming the department came from the significant portion of University alumni who work in education-related fields.
“Historically, a large percentage of Wesleyan’s graduates have gone on to work in education-related fields, even though they couldn’t explicitly study education as undergrads at Wes, so the College creates a space for these interests to flourish,” Grillo said.
Baba-Conn also expressed the significance of the number of University alumni currently involved in the education field.
“I don’t think it is common knowledge, but the biggest sector Wesleyan and graduates go into after graduating is, in fact, education,” Baba-Conn wrote. “The fact that we hadn’t had [an] education major is slightly surprising, honestly, and I am very grateful that it happened during my time here and that I could express interest and help in its development as I needed an important field. I, at first, was not too excited about the education major needing to be a linked major, but over time I realized that it is important for students to have connections with other types of advisers (myself included) because the education major is definitely not fully fledged out, which is understandable.”
This academic year, the CES expanded to add 25 new majors, including Bannan. Bannan’s passion for education studies developed, in part, due to members of the CES faculty who articulated the significance of studying the field.
“Honestly, my first entry into the college came from my curiosity about my education career and how my previous educational experiences have shaped how I learn and how I see the world,” Bannan wrote. “After taking the education practicum my sophomore year with Prof. Amy Grillo, I realized how passionate I was about education issues and how important the institutions of education are in how our society functions.”
Bannan believes that the strengths of the CES lie in the students and faculty involved in the department.
“The central strength of this department just has to be the people,” Bannan wrote. “Every single person in my classes and every professor in the department is so committed to growth and a love of learning, and I feel like the college is a wonderful community where I feel comfortable and welcomed. I especially want to send my love to the senior seminar we had in the fall, where I was able to explore my own passions in education and meet so many new seniors who challenged me and helped me grow!”
Similarly, Baba-Conn appreciates the communal nature of the department.
“I think the strengths are that the education professors truly do care about the students and [try] to help us as much as they possibly can,” Baba-Conn wrote.
Despite the praises of the department, Bannan emphasized that there is still room for growth.
“One current weakness in my opinion is the size of the department and the number of classes, which the department is actively working to expand,” Bannan wrote. “I hope the University administration can see how high the demand is for education courses and faculty, and can continue to support the growth of the college as more students join our community. I also think we need to cultivate a more diverse environment, both with students and faculty, as well as connect with local teachers and education in the Middletown community.”
In the future, Grillo hopes to address these issues by further expanding upon the interdisciplinary approach of the department.
“Creating a space for the interdisciplinary exploration and critical analysis of teaching, learning, and schooling, and for creative thinking about how to enact education aimed at social progress—these are my goals,” Grillo wrote.
In addition to expanding the size of the program, Stemler hopes to eventually organize a CES-hosted conference to gain exposure for the department.
“We [would] pull in top scholars from around the field in different areas [and] tie them together thematically,” Stemler said. “Host them either here or somewhere near and spend a couple of days, talking about a focused topic that then results in some kind of shared work like a published volume or a series of talks or something along those lines. One of the goals for that is to raise awareness of the College of Ed. Studies and raise the profile, make sure the peers understand that we’re out here.”
Grillo maintains the importance of a broad-based and interdisciplinary CES program at the University.
“CES is interdisciplinary and framed by the values of liberal arts education, so it fosters, and even requires, this kind of broad critical analysis of education,” Grillo wrote. “Coming from a range of disciplines, the core faculty in CES share an interest in the relationship between education and social justice, and we want our students to be equipped to take on some of the perennial questions in education from a variety of perspectives.”
Oliver Cope can be reached at Ocope@wesleyan.edu.
Orly Meyer can be reached at Omeyer@wesleyan.edu.