University hires officer to oversee, develop curriculum

University hires officer to oversee, develop curriculum

Chelsea Lane

Grand Valley State University attracted over 24,000 students this year with diverse curriculum, but with an ever-growing student body and a constantly changing business world, GVSU recently opted to create an all-new position.

The Academic Program and Curriculum Development Officer will oversee the university’s curriculum and ensure that it continues to evolve and grow along with the needs of its students.

The Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs nominated Dr. Maria Cimitile for the new job. Prior to her new position, Cimitile served as an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for three years, assistant director of general education for a semester and interim chair of geography and planning. Cimitile has a degree in philosophy and is a tenured professor in the philosophy department.

Now, Cimitile looks forward to working with GVSU’s various colleges to provide informational resources and help coordinate future curricular development. She sat down with the Lanthorn to discuss her position, the university’s curricular process and how students can best voice their thoughts on new course and curriculum ideas.

Lanthorn: Why was this new position added?

Cimitile: That’s a great question. The position was added because we’re thinking about Grand Valley in ways that are very relevant for our students and our community. My position will help departments have a resource for developing either new programs or existing programs so that we’re very in touch with the needs of our students and our community. Part of my job is to make sure that when we’re offering programs and that we’re thinking about how to best prepare students for the world that they’re about to enter into, whether that is graduate school or the job market. Our programs strive to invest students with the knowledge and skills of a liberal education that will serve them throughout their lives to help them be reflective engaged citizens.

Lanthorn: So what are some of your day-to-day responsibilities with this position?

Cimitile: When people ask me, ‘So what are you doing?’ I say that there are two aspects to this position. One is to make sure that our curricular processes run smoothly. As you probably know, our curricular process runs from the department, to the college, to university-wide level. So I make sure all of that runs smoothly. That’s one part. The second part is to give information and advice about the types of programs that would be really beneficial for Grand Valley in the ways that I just described earlier.

Lanthorn: What are some ways students can get involved in either working with the curriculum or utilizing some of the resources that this position is meant to provide?

Cimitile: Students are always welcome to give input to curriculum and there are many ways to do that. One is talking with their faculty members. Our curricular process is what we call ‘shared governance,’ whereby the faculty bring proposals to the university. Faculty members have the best contact with students, so to have students contact the faculty members and say, ‘Hey, how about a course or program in X,’ is a great way to get students’ voices heard. Sometimes we’ll develop those programs, other times we won’t because there are so many other factors in developing the curriculum. Another way is through student senate. I’ve had senators come and see me to talk about programs that were interesting to students. The Student Senate is another great way to make student interest known.

Lanthorn: Are there any upcoming changes that you’d like to see made to the curriculum or that maybe other members of the community have been voicing to you?

Cimitile: There are always changes in process. Curriculum is a living thing. It’s an entity that’s constantly changing and growing, and that’s because our world is constantly changing and growing. There isn’t anything in particular but rather just thinking about what’s relevant, what’s important, what’s significant, what’s going to give our students the best opportunities, what maintains the best academic standards and rigor in our curriculum so that our degrees are worth as much as possible for students and their plans for the future.

Lanthorn: Are there any aspects of Grand Valley’s curriculum that you think are unique compared to other universities in Michigan?

Cimitile: I think some of the assets that we have are that we’re always in contact with our community. For instance the Seidman College of Business has great communication with our area businesses to think about what they need. The Padnos College of Engineering has a very similar relationship with constituencies outside of the university so that those constituencies can say, ‘You know, engineering really needs this.’ Then we can think, okay, how can we help that? How can we make that happen? So that’s something that I think Grand Valley really does very well — that we’re constantly looking outward to think about what we can do internally with a very high level of academic excellence investing liberal education into professionally relevant skills. That gives our students an advantage.

Lanthorn: Is there a typical timeline between when someone makes that initial proposal for a curriculum change and when that course is actually available or does that vary on a case-by-case basis?

Cimitile: It varies based on what kind of curriculum item it is. A course change can happen very quickly. If it’s a brand new program, that takes at least a year because there’s so many things that we want to consider, so many aspects that we want to think about it…

Lanthorn: Are there any upcoming challenges, with the job market changing, that you think the university and its curriculum will have to adapt to?

Cimitile: I think there are many. Right now Michigan is not in a great place economically. I don’t think that’s a surprise to anybody… The job market is changing. It’s not calling for the same type of manufacturing jobs of a few decades ago. The type of knowledge and skills that employers are looking for out of our graduates have to do with critical thinking skills, the ability to be creative and flexible, and those are skills that we really do a great job with at Grand Valley because our core teaching mission is liberal education. All of our professional schools are deeply embedded in liberal education. That gives our students an advantage over, in my view, any other university in the state because we stress that so much and our faculty are so committed to liberal education. Other areas, more specific areas, that we’re probably going to be looking at are health professions, engineering, entrepreneurship, all those things that Michigan needs right now.