What Does It Mean To Earn a Futures Initiative Scholar Certificate?

Hi everyone, I hope you are enjoying a great break.  After break, one consistent and serious focus for our course will be on what your undergraduates are doing, how you are making changes in your own teaching to enhance their success, and on what collaborative project work they are doing as part of this project.  Below are some specifics and then, if I have time (I’m getting ready to catch a plane from Manhattan, KS, to Denver, CO), I’ll write out some of the larger thinking behind all of this, and some research references if I’m able here.


(1) It is important to let your students know they are eligible to be Futures Initiative Scholars, something they can add to all future resumes.   You determine what counts as “successful completion” of your course (passing grade?  C or better? I’d say be as inclusive as possible but this is something we will discuss plus some contribution to the collaborative projects??).

(2) They will be issued official certificates at the May 22 event (plus t-shirts and swag of various kinds).   We’ll also design a pdf that you can send them after the May 22 event if they didn’t make it.  And maybe physical certificates if you want to distribute those, again after the May 22 event.

(3) We will write an official blog about all of this, public, to which you can refer your students.   Please help us finalize the wording of the certificate.  It’s on a Google Doc. Here’s the link:

Below is the current, tentative text for improvement.


Futures Initiative Scholar, Certificate Awarded May 22, 2015.

The Futures Initiative Scholar certificate is awarded to students who have completed an innovative course sponsored by the Futures Initiative and contributed to a CUNY-wide collaborative, public digital project.



(4) We will either be offering a reduced or a full-scale mentoring workshop this summer for up to forty students who would like to serve as peer mentors to the six courses we will offer next year.   There will be modest funding to attend the two-day workshop and, for the nine or ten students chosen to be campus-based mentors, a modest stipend for the semester. I don’t mean to be coy about these “modest” amounts or the number of students accepted.  We have not heard if we will have funding yet so do not know the answer to those questions.


(5) If you have not sent us your feedback forms for this course, please do asap. We need those to help us shape the second half  of the class.


(6)  What else?  What is stressing you out?  What makes you happy?  What makes you unhappy?


Okay, below are a few thoughts, some of which you have heard below . . .


The oddest part of this course is that, although you applied for this course and should have read a lot about it before you applied, you probably did not anticipate a course as radically student-centered as this.  Furthermore, your student’s didn’t have a clue.  They landed in their FI courses by chance.  That is intentional It’s the first course ever offered by the Futures Initiative and, rather than go timid, we went big and bold.   Once the graduate-student created units are over, we will focus on what we learned, what we didn’t learn, what we could do different and better next time.   Modeling how you respond to feedback and giving feedback and receiving it are hugely important to success–not just in one’s education but beyond.

There is a serendipitous aspect to this course.  Not only did the undergraduates walk into a whole series of possible additional challenges that, for some, will also be possible opportunities, they probably have not encountered this kind of set up before.  On one level, it is an accident.  On another (depending on how anthropological one might wish to be), because it is an accident–in the sense of “un-earned”–it is a “gift.”   Not all gifts, of course, are wanted, warranted, or acceptable.

One thing we want to understand is what does it mean to suddenly be given an educational gift–is it one?  do students understand this is valuable to the future?  what are you doing to make students aware that any kind of recognition on their future cv’s is important, it singles them out, it gives notice, and has an implicit, tacit, “light responsibility” of living up to its terms.   This added dimension of the course will matter a lot to some, not at all to others, and others will be happier than they admit. “Gifts” do not come often to people at commuter public institutions especially to people in stressed financial circumstances so how you present this is important. Economist Caroline Hornsby notes that the elite private residential institutions spend twenty times more on all of the non-curricular amenities designed to keep students in school than do non-residential state institutions.   It is easy to be cynical about climbing walls (the typically derided amenity); it is harder to be cynical about a 97% graduation rate (typical at the elites) versus a 25% graduation rate. We know from the business literature of voluntary activities that is is extremely difficult for people to keep focused and motivated towards an intangible goal when there are not lots of external, social, community-based constraints, restraints, supports, censures, approbations, approvals, and disapprovals.  How do you supply those in a situation where “community” is constantly changing and often anonymous?  Most of the research on success focuses in two directions:  (1) on life circumstances and how to structure the educational experience in a way that gives focus and a pathway to what can seem oblique and confusing; and (2) how to make connection–connection to other students, to one’s future pathways, to one’s individual life outside of school, to one’s intellectual hobbies and passions, and often to appealing forms of technology too.   It is a challenge to find ways, in a non-residential institution, to reinforce a sense of community, mission, purpose, pathways.

If you agree that a key feature of all formal education (K-12 too) is that it is unnatural, scripted and regulated and assessed and measured to be unlike almost any other form of learning outside of school, then one challenge we have is to find a way, within an unnatural system, to re-invigorate the forms and styles and occasions for learning that we know work outside of class and outside of school.   The methods vary but real-time feedback, engagement, participation, speaking your own ideas in a pedagogical situation that supports and structures equality are some of what you have presented this term so beautifully.  I hope you are applying these in your classrooms.

And it’s important to make your students know of the research behind these methods as they are great tools for their own continuous learning too.  (Think-Pair-Share is a well-known study group aid,  for example, and study groups have been shown to be one of the single most important keys to success.)   “Mapping” is designed to test, explain, explore, exhibit, experiment, and in other ways engage these methods in real time in real subject or content areas in real classrooms or, for some of you, in programs for teachers.

If you agree that the single defining feature of ALL post-secondary education is that it is voluntary, then the “gift” aspects of the course–such as being designated a Futures Initiative Scholar in a course you didn’t sign up for–should be clearer.  It may only be a line on a resume but many of your students won’t have anything special on their resume–or won’t think they do.  Almost all the social arrangements that cement participation in voluntary activities are absent for non-residential colleges and replaced with “grade culture” which is the opposite of “gift” culture in all of its sociological and anthropological communal senses.  Working towards a grade (versus working towards mastery) means you set your sights on getting through the course, on completing the course, not on seeing it as part of a pathway towards a larger personal goal.   That is one of the key affective factors that defeats completion rates.

Most of the students in your classes will not have an interest in the mentoring workshop and possibility for next academic year.  For some subset, I promise you this possibility will be inspiring, motivating, and, for a very special few, life changing.


Gotta run.  Those are fast and preliminary thoughts.  Happy break everyone!



The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309