“Engaged learning encourages students to take agency in seeking out learning experiences that are relevant to their interests and goals and to not only engage with content but to actively reflect on their own learning processes,” noted Kathy Wolfe, Hamilton’s first dean of engaged education, who joined the College on July 1. “Students are actively transferring concepts and skills from one context to another, integrating their learning across disciplines and applying what they learn to questions and problems that matter to them and to the world."
Wolfe joins Hamilton having most recently served as dean of undergraduate programs and professor of English at her alma mater, Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, where she had worked for 20 years. She served as an interim vice president in the office of Integrative Liberal Learning and the Global Commons at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and she continues to consult for the AAC&U Summer Institute on Integrative Learning and Signature Work.
Wolfe holds a doctorate in English from Texas Christian University. Her teaching interests include writing, rhetoric, linguistics, history of English, environmental literature, and seminars for first-year and transfer students. She has taught for 27 years and has spent nine years in administrative roles.
In responding to what attracted her to the position at Hamilton, Wolfe noted, “When I read the job description, it hit on many of the projects I’ve done and skills I’ve developed over the past decade. Hamilton is an institution that could rest on its laurels; I was impressed that leaders here had chosen instead to continue innovating and improving the student experience. Plus, getting to know a beautiful area like Central/Upstate NY was an attractive proposition!”
A self-described champion of integrative and experiential learning, Wolfe sees several connections between her work at Nebraska Wesleyan and what she will bring to her role at Hamilton. “We transformed what had been a typical distributive or ‘menu’ general education program into a curriculum that was integrative and experiential with key skills scaffolded over time and across disciplines,” she said. “This structure requires that faculty and staff work together more deliberately, and the many possible individualized paths through the curriculum demand more intensive and holistic advising. At Hamilton, the open curriculum, many experiential opportunities, and plethora of student support resources augment that same demand.”
Wolfe plans to do a lot of listening and learning about the history and culture of Hamilton building momentum for the ALEX (Advise, Learn, Experience) program in her first months on campus. “The main tasks this year will be collaboratively articulating the vision emerging from all the good work that’s been done over the past couple of years, refining the ALEX advisors’ job descriptions, designing the ALEX curriculum, and configuring the software system that will support the program.”
The ALEX program, planned to be launched in 2021, is a coordinated network of advisors tailored for each student’s academic success, career preparation, experiential learning, and personal growth. Students will continue to have faculty advisors focused on their academic program in addition to ALEX advisors who will introduce them to resources, services, and programs that will support them throughout their time at Hamilton and offer guidance in areas such as off-campus study, career preparation, and life balance.
As a first-generation college student, Wolfe’s own engaged learning experiences involved travel abroad for the first time (for a literary studies trip to Britain), a mentored senior project, and an internship with the local humanities council.
“These experiences fueled my passion for language theory and woke me up to what could be done with an English major (once I figured out that was what I was meant to be doing), and my mentors alerted me to the possibility of graduate school and encouraged me to apply — something I never would have known to do on my own,” she said. “Mentors are just hugely important, and I want every student to have at least one!”
Wolfe has a grown son and two cats and spends most of her spare time hiking, birding, reading, and digging in the garden. What is her initial reaction to the differences between Upstate New York and the plains and sandhills of Nebraska — “So. Many. Trees! My partner and I are looking forward to exploring so many new outdoor opportunities and scenic places — in fact, we've already begun.”