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Barbara Dilley classPhoto: Matthew Lester

Balancing Intelligence & Intuition

Naropa's Undergraduate Curricular Arc

By Shitu Rajbhandari

The undergraduate curriculum at Naropa University aims to offer a twenty-first-century education through its unique blend of academics, various artistic and contemplative practices, and community engagement. It encourages students to take their learning beyond the facts and to engage with others and the material. Deeply rooted in Naropa's mission, the curriculum incorporates contemplative theories and practices to aid students to understand and integrate their knowledge into the world.

With this goal in mind, a "curricular arc" was devised as a part of the 2009–2014 Academic Plan that was approved unanimously by the faculty across all the eleven majors in 2008. A blueprint of sorts for undergraduate education at Naropa and its planning and assessment, the arc was initiated after the university received the Title III Grant in 2010. Totaling up to $1.9 million, the grant is being used to implement the university's undergraduate academic plan and help expand the university's capacity to serve low-income students.

Since this was the first time an integrated set of learning outcomes was identified, the curricular arc represents a significant breakthrough for Naropa. "Previously, because of Naropa's legacy as a graduate institute that added first degree completion and then the full four years, Naropa's curriculum was sometimes fragmented, with inadequate integration between the undergraduate core and the majors as well as between the majors," says Title III Activity Director Jeremy Lowry.

The curricular arc describes six curriculum commitments that will be further integrated into all the academic programs and will aid in better assessment of the Naropa philosophy and style of education throughout the course. The arc works towards integrating contemplative theories and practices to help students cultivate an unbiased awareness and presence of self, insight, and clarity of mind. This opens gates for students to address the complex issues of diversity and ecological sustainability and to recognize the interconnection between humans and ecology and develop sustainable practices. This third curricular area focuses on enhancing the students' ability to employ multiple modes of inquiry, knowledge, and expression, which will strengthen their analytical and critical abilities. The arc also focuses on the inter-and intra personal capacities, which is very beneficial for effective communication. Another area where the curriculum alteration is valuable is to develop disciplinary and trans-disciplinary skill and experience in applying learning to complex problems in the real world.

Lowry further informs that, "the work of realigning the curriculum is being done by a series of faculty teams, organized under the auspices of Title III, gradually evaluating and reshaping the curriculum. Many undergraduate faculty members from each of the programs have been involved over the course of the first three years."

Currently in its fourth year, the rearrangement has piloted, evaluated, and institutionalized a first-year seminar where students are introduced to different introductory level learning outcomes along with engaging in high levels of interaction with faculty. Last year, the new Core Area Requirements were piloted and implemented and work on majors was initiated to ensure the alterations were reflected throughout the curricular arc. As for this year, the Title III team is working on revising the capstone-level learning, which will assist in building an effective bridge between the students, their learning at Naropa, and their work in the world.

This overall revamping of the curriculum is going to help students balance intellect and intuitive disciplines to create a space for interaction between disciplines. The curricular arc reflects Naropa's academic structure and helps enhance the students' critical thinking and research skills as well as cultivate open, compassionate, and self-confident graduates.