Synergy Newsletter

Finding Our Common Humanity Within The COF

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On February 11, Colleges of the Fenway, with funding from an Interfaith Youth Core grant, hosted the the one-day “Finding Our Common Humanity” conference at MassArt. Over 30 students, faculty, and staff engaged in dialogue and explored ways to better support one another, particularly those belonging to religious communities most affected by hate and intolerance.

Guest speakers included Ahmed Rashed, instructor at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, who discussed establishing solidarity across different faiths or belief systems. In addition, Dr. Liza Talusan, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at The Park School in Brookline, facilitated a workshop exploring an individual’s relationship to bystander intervention. The conference concluded with Becca Hartman, Campus Relations Manager from Interfaith Youth Core, who encouraged participants to identify ways in which to strengthen communities through positive action steps.

Sarah Ijaz, Simmons College ‘19, attended the conference and enjoyed the thought-provoking faith-based discussions. “As an attendee, I felt that my opinions and voice were welcome in every discussion and I enjoyed the time I spent getting to know how people different than me were reacting to different ethical dilemmas and the current state of American politics. It was valuable for me to have a day set aside for building relationships with people outside of my own faith community”, she said.

An additional participant shared, “I’ve learned to think deeply about what it means to help and how my upbringing informed it. I also learned that my own weaknesses and vulnerability does not exempt me from stepping up!”

Stay tuned for upcoming programs sponsored by COF Communities of Faith and to learn more about Interfaith Youth Core’s work, visit:

Academic Collaboration

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Faculty have been implementing social media platforms into their classrooms for years. A team of four COF faculty members, spanning diverse fields of study and institutions, collaborated to research specifically how social media integration impacted the quality of their students’ learning. Their research studied social media usage of students in six courses and assessed student learning through anonymous surveys, and is now available in the September issue of College Teaching “Digitally Inspired Thinking: Can Social Media Lead to Deep Learning in Higher Education?

This team included Professor Karen Harvey Teeley, M.S., R.N., from Simmons College; Professor Lana Dvorkin Camiel, Pharm D., from MCPHS University; Gouri Banerjee PhD., Associate Professor Emeritus at Emmanuel College; and Deb Peretz, PhD., formerly of Wheelock College. The group initially met at a Summer Teaching Institute in 2010 as part of COF’s Teaching and Learning Collaborative led Dr. Suzanne Pasch and funded through a Davis Educational Foundation Grant. The faculty were part of a group representing the six COF institutions who worked with Dr. Pasch to develop an Effective College Teaching Certificate. During this time, they realized that they were all exploring the use of social media to deepen students’ learning in their courses. They also viewed their variety of disciplines and teaching styles as a helpful and interesting way to compare their results.

Students utilized Facebook, Twitter, VoiceThread, YouTube, and blogs, as platforms for discussion, sharing course-related news, reflection, and other collaboration.  At the conclusion of the semester, the students were surveyed to evaluate their perception of how the social media tools impacted their learning. The researchers designed the survey to gather information on the student’s initial comfort with social media, their engagement with their studies, and assess how social media impacted three specific aspects of deep learning: Higher Order Learning, Integrative Learning, and Reflective Learning.

Results of the study indicate that social media supports deep learning both directly and indirectly, makes learning easier, promotes long-term retention of content, and fosters a more engaging and enjoyable learning environment. When ratings of Strongly Agree and Agree from the survey are combined, the percentage of students who agree that social media fostered Higher Order Learning ranged from 68–75%, Integrative Learning, 73–81%, Reflective Learning 60–81%.

“This project created a friendship that lasts,” says Peretz of the group. “It has influenced our teaching and scholarship. We learned a lot from the collaboration about different ways to use social media in our teaching.”  These faculty continue to collaborate!

To learn more about the interests of the researchers, check out:
 (Teach for Impact podcast)
Saheli (Non-profit)

Three Questions With Dr. David Nelson, President MassArt

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What do you see as the rewards and challenges of being a college president today?

A college is, ideally, a place of opportunity. MassArt is that kind of place, where the doors of opportunity are opened for students from all kinds of backgrounds. It truly is a place where lives are changed. To be a college president at a place like MassArt is rewarding – amazingly so – for that fact alone. Because this work matters, and I have the privilege of serving students, along with incredibly talented and dedicated faculty and staff.

But there’s more. A college is a creativity factory. I’ve begun speaking of the ubiquity of creativity at MassArt. Creative souls are doing their work around every corner and behind every door on our campus. To see that, and to be able to help sustain and enhance that work, is remarkable.

The challenges of the presidency are substantial. There are funds to raise, a vision to articulate, and people to inspire and motivate. And, of course, there are problems to solve. Sometimes the work is exhausting, and sometimes it’s messy. Things don’t always go well, and they certainly don’t always go the way you’d like. But the work is so important, because serving students and preparing them for meaningful, productive lives makes addressing the challenges worthwhile. We’re shaping the lives of people who will make our world a better place, so on balance, the challenges and frustrations don’t trouble me so much

Why MassArt?

I believe passionately in the idea of the value of an educated citizenry and, therefore, I believe passionately in the notion of public education. My previous position was with the University of North Carolina, and at this point in my life I wanted to stay in public education. So MassArt, as the art and design college of the Commonwealth, and the first such school in the U.S., presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.

I also care deeply about the MassArt mission, to prepare students from diverse backgrounds to participate in the creative economy as artists, designers, and educators, and to prepare them to engage in the well-being of their society.

As an artist – I’m a musician – MassArt feels very much like “home” to me. I love the community here, and am thrilled to be in Boston. So, in all these ways, ways that matter deeply to me and to my wife Kimberly, I couldn’t be happier to be here. We both consider it an honor to be asked to be here.

What impact would you like the Colleges of the Fenway to have?

The Colleges of the Fenway organization is unique, because it offers opportunities for students at our colleges that we couldn’t otherwise provide. The relationship among the six COF schools invites our students to enter into such a broad array of academic courses, international study experiences, and social groups and activities that are much more diverse and rich than if any one of us simply did our work in isolation. My hope is that COF will continue to provide these curricular and extracurricular opportunities for students, that do so much to expand their horizons and impact the way they see the world. I believe the COF model can be an exemplar for colleges in other parts of the country who can benefit from sharing resources and enriching student learning in the ways COF does for students here in Boston.

Learn more about President Nelson here.