The “Fresh Thinking” portfolio of projects encouraged clarity about the goals and objectives of majors in the disciplines, testing better means of increasing student engagement and learning in the arts and sciences, and determining whether engagement with “Big Questions” of meaning and value within the context of the disciplines can strengthen liberal arts education.
Who am I? What are my values? What does it mean to be human? What obligations do I have to other people? What does it mean to be a citizen in a democracy? What makes work, or a life, meaningful and satisfying? These are “Big Questions” that may be approached in secular or religious terms, but nevertheless are increasingly pushed aside due to increasing specialization of research agendas in the disciplines. The “Fresh Thinking” portfolio of projects developed strategies to link such questions to the work of the scholarly disciplines. At the same time, the portfolio included a focus on what our founder Walter Teagle called "religious work,” where funded projects explored the relationship between students' interests in and commitment to religion and their academic engagements, particularly with regard to whether there are ways in which these two aspects of (some) students' experience can work together to produce a richer and deeper educational experience during the undergraduate years.
The “Fresh Thinking” portfolio was informed by a series of listenings that brought together faculty, deans and college presidents, disciplinary society representatives, and foundation officers. For instance, listenings in fall 2005 and fall 2006 on "religious work" and “Big Questions” led to RFPs for cross-campus working groups. The Foundation convened listenings in fall 2004, spring 2005, and spring 2006 to consider issues surrounding disciplinary study in liberal education and the potential value of a discipline-based initiative to support more systemic assessment of teaching and learning in higher education. The discussion was influenced by prevailing debates on the role of liberal education, the major, and pre-professional courses in undergraduate education. These listenings in turn informed RFPs on “Big Questions and the Disciplines” and “The Disciplines and Undergraduate Education”.