January 29 , 2007
by beverly clark
A visit to Oxford College 35 miles or so east of Atlanta is in one sense a step back in time to Emory’s historic roots. The rural, tranquil campus has had many incarnations since Methodist ministers founded Emory College there in 1836. Today, Oxford is on track to substantially strengthen and deepen its long-time role in providing a transformative, liberal arts intensive program for the first two years of the Emory baccalaureate degree.
Oxford’s distinctive qualities — a small liberal arts college with access to everything a major university offers — provide the best of both worlds, said Sarah Parsons, a junior in Emory College who spent her first two years at Oxford. Parsons already has emerged as a leader on Emory’s main campus around environmental sustainability issues — an interest that was fostered at Oxford.
“There is an intense network of support, with faculty that encourage you to delve into your area of interest,” Parsons said. “There is such a feeling of community there, and a very enriching environment, especially for the first two years of school. Building community gets instilled in you at Oxford, and that is a valuable skill to take with you to the Atlanta campus and wherever you go in life.”
The school’s size, strong faculty-student relations and its deep commitment to the liberal arts are strengths Oxford is building upon as the college moves forward with its strategic plan.
“There is nothing else quite like Oxford anywhere in the country,” said Oxford College Dean Stephen Bowen, who joined Oxford in fall 2005. Since then, the College has completed its strategic plan and a campus master plan that will transform the campus.
“Through our strategic planning process, we are now much better able to articulate the role of Oxford within Emory University,” Bowen said. “We now have specific plans to deepen and strengthen our distinctive characteristics, which will in turn help Emory emerge as a national model of the best practices in undergraduate education.”
Plans slated for this academic year include breaking ground on a new residence hall, using new recruiting strategies that offer Oxford as a focused option in undergraduate admissions, and intensifying fundraising efforts for a new Library and Information Technology Center, a science center, student center and other new facilities.
A key part of achieving Oxford’s goals will be implementation of the school’s campus master plan. A space needs analysis found a 40 percent deficit in the campus’ physical plant compared to schools of similar size and mission, with the most critical needs in student housing and the sciences. The immediate goal is to support Oxford’s current enrollment of nearly 700 students. The college also collaborated closely with the City of Oxford to support the development of the college community.
Academically, Oxford has developed a new Center for Academic Excellence that focuses on the scholarship of teaching and learning, educational research and research design, learning theory, faculty development, and assessment of student academic success. A director for CAE is expected to be hired and in place by fall 2007.
“The CAE will help us to raise even higher our level of innovation as a laboratory of teaching and learning,” Bowen said, adding that this is an area in which Oxford’s accomplishments have led to its recognition by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a national leader in this form of scholarship.
Oxford also has developed the Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement, which is supported through the Pierce endowment. The Institute, led by Pierce Professor of Religion David Gowler, supports and implements programs that prepare students to assume roles of leadership and service at Oxford and in the community by integrating academic study, leadership development and community engagement.
Another major program is the “Green Campus and Healthful Living Initiative,” which will renew Oxford’s effort to become a model of an environmentally committed and healthful campus.