Georgetown University’s Designing the Future(s) of the University Initiative received $1.7 million in alumni donations and a $4 million anonymous gift at the end of January.
The gifts will allow the initiative, launched in 2013, to explore how best to design a liberal arts education for the increasingly globalized future and discover ways to make higher education more student-centered.

“The fact that this project is funded entirely through philanthropy is a testament to the value that alumni place on their Georgetown education,” University President John J. DeGioia wrote in a statement. “These gifts, combined with donations from partner organizations, are helping the university adapt to the demands of the 21st century.”

Vice Provost for Education Randall Bass said that the donors expressed a desire to make substantive changes to the future of higher education. According to Bass, the initiative’s staff has yet to decide exactly what specific projects the donations will fund.

“All of the alumni gifts are specifically for the reinvention of higher ed, so they’re alumni who in particular have been inspired and excited by the Designing the Future(s) Initiative,” Bass said.
Provost Robert Groves said he believes previous successes of the initiative have inspired donors to fund the project.

“The internal investments that Georgetown made in academic year 2012-2013 have paid great dividends to innovation in the classroom already,” Groves said. “The recent decisions for multiple funding sources to support these efforts with their money gives us great confidence that our strategy has value.”

The university has been involved in higher education development and future planning projects since 2000 with the creation of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, which has helped developed seven massive open online courses since 2013.

In addition, the university developed the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning in 2012 to incorporate $8 million of technology into the university learning experience. The Designing the Future(s) program adds on to these initiatives, allowing future planning to extend to the university curriculum.
Bass said he believes that the faculty involvement aspect of the Designing the Future(s) Initiative will help modernize education on campus.

“The best part is that it’s faculty-driven,” Bass said. “A lot of the programs, or a lot of the experiments are really focused on trying to find ways to create more credit-bearing interactions between faculty and students outside of the traditional classroom and trying to take some of those experiences that students find are so valuable for their education and moving them from the co-curriculum where they don’t get credit for them.”

According to Bass, this initiative will provide students with a chance to tailor their education to their specific interests.

“We’re also trying to find ways to help students develop even more personalized pathways through Georgetown, in ways that fit their passions and interests, and try to remove some of the boundaries between the units that allow people to cross schools and cross campuses and to take even more advantage of all of the resources Georgetown has to offer,” Bass said.
Education and Academic Affairs Director Catherine Armour said that the alumni donations will be the key to success in the initiative.

“Georgetown is very fortunate to have committed donors engaged in looking to our future and philanthropically supporting the Designing the Future(s) initiative both through large and small gifts,” Armour said. “These gifts will literally make the difference — funding curricular experiments which contribute to a sustainable and forward-facing Georgetown education.”

One of the new projects that the Designing the Future(s) Initiative is developing is a minor or certificate in writing, design and communication with no required courses. Instead of course work, students would work on their own projects to complete the requirements.

“We’re going to be piloting this program — that rather than relying on courses or seat time — will award credit for projects completed, so students will be participating in a studio environment in which they are creating writing design or communications projects,” Professor Margaret Debelius said. “They might come out of course work or they might come out of work that students did in an internship, or in a community based learning setting, or in a study abroad program. …This project-based learning is meant to harness some of that energy.”

Debelius said she felt that the gift would allow professors to explore new and innovative options for the Georgetown curriculum.

“What the gift is really going to allow us to do is to do some curricular experimentation … to be able to test several different models is a great use of the gift, and once we know more, we can make some other decisions,” Debelius said.

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