By Natalie Kfoury – Co-Editor-in-Chief
In the 15 years Jim Ostrow has been at Lasell, the Vice President of Academic Affairs had a hand in designing and implementing many initiatives that have fueled the college’s growth. At the end of last semester, Ostrow sat down with the staff of The 1851 Chronicle for an informal question and answer period. Topics included the core curriculum, strategic planning initiatives, and future plans for growth and changes.
Fall 2014 saw the beginning of the college’s new Core Curriculum, an academic program that replaced the general education and Areas of Inquiry design with “knowledge perspectives.” All first year students are currently following this plan. Ostrow said Lasell was like many higher education institutions that have been working to improve the general education curriculum.
“We were getting signals from various students that they weren’t seeing connections from the general education courses and the other stuff they were doing for their majors,” said Ostrow.
The new core curriculum is a collaborative effort between students, faculty, and administration, Ostrow said. The courses are faculty designed, approved, and implemented, including interdisciplinary coursework and team teaching: an initiative that helps students get the most from their education and learn from multiple disciplines.
The core curriculum is designed with flexibility so students can fit activities such as going abroad into their schedules. The curriculum was created in part with the Davis Educational Fund Grant, Ostrow said, which provides grants for creative and innovative academic initiatives. Lasell will review the effectiveness of the core curriculum through faculty assessment, he said.
Ostrow said he is passionate about continuing to grow and improve Lasell. Currently the college has close to 1700 undergraduate students, more than 480 graduate students, and 86 faculty members. The college was considering the option to become a university, and while Lasell meets the criteria for becoming a university, Ostrow said this is not a current priority.
“If we changed right now to Lasell University, it wouldn’t change the nature of what we’re doing, it would just change our name,” he said. “Right now I think the general feeling is we’re a small college, a small institution, and most people feel the identity we have is most appropriate to keep the name Lasell College. But that doesn’t mean we won’t explore university status in the future.”
Ostrow also discussed Vision 2017, the college’s strategic planning initiative. A lot has been checked off the Vision 2017 list including renovations to Woodland, a developed Master’s program, and under- graduate growth. However, Ostrow said there are still plans that need to be implemented, including renovations to Wolfe, Wass, the Athletic Center, and the library. Preliminary plans have been drawn up on these buildings, with Wolfe and Wass to be renovated first. The college also has plans to add more members to the faculty.
“We still haven’t met our goal of full-time coverage of 67 percent at the under-graduate level of credits covered by full-time faculty. Currently we’re still at the low to mid 50s because we keep bringing in new students and growing the graduate programs. So we have to keep hiring full-time faculty members. We have not raised that percentage as fast as we thought,” said Ostrow, adding the college can grow to about 1800 undergraduates and that the graduate program can also grow.
The topic of study abroad and a rumor that Lasell will require fashion and communications majors to study abroad was also discussed. While Ostrow said there was no truth to that, he said the international business major may someday have an abroad requirement, perhaps with Franklin College in Switzerland, an institutional partner of Lasell.
“We need to infuse global awareness more into our curriculum as well as infuse sensitivity to issues of diversity and inclusion and multiculturalism… And so we need to provide support and incentives as one part of that for students to be able to go abroad and have international experiences, both semesters abroad and short-term service learning trips,” said Ostrow.
Another exciting development is cross registration with other colleges, according to Ostrow. Currently the college is looking to collaborate with Regis College. Cross registration means students from Lasell and another college could seamlessly take courses at the other campus, with the potential of eventual program collaboration. Cross registration with Regis could take place within the next year.
“The neat thing about Regis is it’s close, their shuttles to Riverside and ours almost match perfectly, and they have a lot of things we don’t have and vice versa,” said Ostrow. “One of the things they have is advanced classes in the sciences, which a lot of our students want. We have business and a lot of things they don’t have. I’ve already had meetings with them and I think that’s going to happen soon.”
Lasell has seen recent success in enrollment. Ostrow attributes the college’s strong teaching faculty, the exciting and vibrant atmosphere, the strength of the programs, and the Connected Learning philosophy to the enrollment success. “This place continues to improve,” he said.
“I love the faculty and students; I mean it’s a great community…I think everybody here is invested in Lasell. And the growth and success of the place is due to working across boundaries in ways I haven’t seen at other institutions,” said Ostrow. “If it wasn’t that kind of place, I would get bored. I’ve been here a long time, I’m about to finish my fourteenth year, but the reason why I still like it is because this place is always changing and willing to change and develop new programs and explore new ideas. So it’s fun.”