A Brief History of College Park Scholars

In 1987, the University Senate charged a committee to research the status of undergraduate education at the University of Maryland. The resulting report known as Promises to Keep: The College Park Plan for Undergraduate Education, called for dramatic change. Since then resources and initiatives have revolutionized the undergraduate student body, and general education. Additionally, the University embarked on establishing a Center for Teaching Excellence, expanded the University Honors Program, and increased its emphasis on academic life in all residence halls.

The idea for Scholars was born out of this movement. In 1993, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Ira Berlin, met with the Director of Resident Life, Dr. Patricia Mielke, and the Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Dr. Linda Clement, to discuss a new venture. All were well versed in the literature of Higher Education that encouraged building learning communities for undergraduates. They believed that a living-learning community could be created by pooling resources available in the Academic Affairs and Student Affairs offices.

Cumberland Hall was selected as the site for the new venture named College Park Scholars. While Cumberland was renovated to make room for classroom and office spaces, plans for the new community went forward. An Executive Director, Dr. Nancy Shapiro, was selected, along with four Faculty Directors to administer four freshman living-learning programs. Each academic program was named and sponsored by a participating College and staffed with faculty and graduate assistants from that college:

Arts was sponsored by the College of Arts and Humanities;
International Studies, by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences;
Life Sciences, by the College of Chemical and Life Sciences (now the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences); and
Science, Technology and Society, by the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

In the spring of 1994, Dr. Shapiro and her tiny staff invited the first group of freshmen to participate in College Park Scholars, and some 450 accepted the call. Curricula for the programs were established in time for Scholars to be launched in September 1994. Freshman communities were created by grouping the students in programs that lived together and shared at least two common courses.

College Park Scholars made news. It was an unusual program in its emphasis on both community and academics. This emphasis on community made Scholars a natural lab for service learning, through which students have developed ties to agencies and schools outside the university. Another unique aspect of Scholars was its emphasis on active learning. In their Scholars colloquia, students literally explored their areas of interest through field trips and hands-on experiences. Living and learning in Scholars was a success with students, and College Park Scholars expanded to include more than 500 students in its second freshman class. In 1995, Scholars added three new programs: Advocates for Children, sponsored by the College of Education; Environmental Studies from the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences; and Public Leadership from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. With these additions, the Scholars community also added Centreville Hall to accommodate increased enrollment.

In 1996 Scholars added one more program, bringing the total to eight, and admitted more than 700 freshmen. The new program was American Cultures, sponsored by the College of Arts and Humanities. Plans were approved to build classroom and meeting spaces for the Scholars community in the old Cambridge Dining Hall, and to renovate and add Cambridge Hall to the Scholars family of residences.

Also in 1996, College Park Scholars was awarded a $211,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) to develop a technique for teaching undergraduate students about research. Students in Scholars received credit for working in the National Archives or in other primary sources as the staff in Scholars worked strategies for so-called "Discovery Projects." Work funded by this grant continues to expand Scholars ties to the research community on campus and to teach our students how the world of research operates.

In 1997, some 800 new freshmen arrived, along with a ninth College Park Scholars program: Science, Discovery and the Universe, sponsored by the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences. The founding director of Scholars, Dr. Shapiro, accepted a position with the University System of Maryland and an acting Executive Director, Dr. Katherine McAdams from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, was appointed. In the fall of 1997, the Scholars staff answered literally thousands of contacts from students interested in the program. A web site was established, not just to publicize the program but so the students could access information such as Scholars schedules, course requirements, and links to academic resources. Dr. McAdams was appointed Executive Director in May of 1998.

In the summer of 1998, Scholars was recognized as an exemplary living-learning community by the Joint Task Force on Student Learning. This task force was formed by the American Association for Higher Education, the American College Personnel Association, and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Scholars was singled out for its ability to make and maintain connections, "...mentally among concepts, ideas and meanings; and experientially through interaction between the mind and the environment, self and other, generality and context, deliberation and action."

In the fall of 1998, Scholars launched Business, Society, and the Economy, sponsored by the College of Business and Management. Cambridge Hall joined the Scholars community, and now serves as home to BSE and Science, Discovery, and the Universe. The much-anticipated Cambridge Community Center continued its construction and was completed in March 1999 with state of the art audio-visual equipment installed the following summer.

In the fall of 1999, Scholars completed its expansion with the addition of its final two programs: Earth, Life, and Time, sponsored by the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences, and Media, Self, and Society, sponsored by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. The Cambridge Community Center was also added to our community as it opened its doors to Scholars classes and programs.

With the advent of the Cambridge Community Center and its space for classes and programs, in 2000 Scholars inaugurated tutoring opportunities in math, physics, biology and chemistry. An English writing program was also designed and implemented. 2001 was a year of tragedy as well as growth. The entire country froze on September 11th, as we witnessed and experienced the country's losses resulting from the plane crashes at the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C., the World Trade Center in New York City, and in suburban Pittsburgh, PA. Still reeling from the national tragedy and the consequent personal losses therein, 13 days later the north side of campus endured a deadly tornado. Scholars' faculty, staff and students immediately responded to the storm's aftermath, transforming the Cambridge Community Center into an emergency shelter for affected resident students and assisting in the clearing of debris from walkways and parking lots. And when it was time to mourn, Scholars created meaningful outlets for expressing individual and collective grief.

Also in 2001, Scholars took steps to form an alumni association and initiate fundraising activities. Scholars concluded its '01-'02 academic year with a Faculty Institute featuring Dr. Melvin George, President Emeritus of The University of Missouri, as keynote speaker and process consultant. Scholars' efforts did not go unnoticed. In the Maryland Association for Higher Education's annual honoring of innovative and effective programs, College Park Scholars was recognized for being "a natural lab for innovation and experimentation."

External accolades began the '02-'03 academic year with U.S. News and World Report's annual survey of colleges and universities recognition of Maryland's living-learning initiatives -- of which Scholars is the largest program -- as ranking third, nationally, in the publication's new category of "programs that work." To ensure that these acknowledgements bear merit, The Faculty Advisory Council launched an assessment initiative. Program assessments took place for four of the 12 programs (Advocates for Children, American Cultures, Earth, Life and Time, and Environmental Studies) with additional assessments to occur in following years. Other living-learning assessments also focused on Scholars. The Boyer Center at Messiah College began a multi-year study of Student Affairs-Academic Affairs Partnerships, through a FIPSE funded project. Maryland is one of 18 colleges participating in the study. The American College and University Housing Officers Association funded a national study of living-learning programs. Maryland joined the universities of Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois in piloting the study. The Principal Investigator for this study is Dr. Karen Inkelas, at the University of Maryland, and a member of our Faculty Advisory Council.

In the fall of 2002, Dr. Katherine McAdams announced her intention to return to the journalism faculty. This resulted in a national search for her replacement. Dr. Lillie Ransom, co-director of American Cultures, agreed to a brief interim shift as Executive Director until Dr. Greig Stewart could be brought on board. Stewart left a15-year tenure as the Philip Merrill College of Journalism's associate dean to assume the challenges and opportunities of Scholars' executive directorship.

Scholars approached its 10th anniversary facing significant budget challenges, similar to those in place when the program was initiated. Though we entered an era of challenges, Scholars -- as is its legacy -- continued to seize opportunities to enrich the undergraduate experience of its students. Toward that end, partnerships were strengthened with the Division of Students Affairs and the academic units’ sponsoring Scholars programs. Greater collaboration was explored with the University Honors program. Synergies across Scholars programs resulted in multiple-program co-curricular experiences, such as Scholars-in-New York and a Scholars-in-London Winterterm course, and a Scholars-wide alumni chapter was established as a stand-alone, 501(c)(3) organization, contributing to campus wide events, such as Maryland Day.

The University’s strategic planning efforts in 2007 challenged all units, including College Park Scholars, to assess their strengths and identify purposeful realignment and growth.  As a result, the Colleges of Arts and Humanities and Education concluded the decade-long runs of Cultures of the Americas and Advocates for Children after having awarded 616 and 866 academic citations, respectively. The new School of Public Health recognized an opportunity and launched the College Park Scholars Global Public Health program. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Computer, Mathematics and Physical Sciences reengineered their programs -- Environmental Studies; and Earth, Life and Time -- into Environment, Technology and Economy; and Science and Global Change.  Strategic planning also challenged each Scholars program to revisit its academic requirements to align them with the University’s new General Education program. 

Scholars planning also identified opportunities to tap the wealth of support resources in its sophomores by developing a peer mentor program, and in its growing legion of alumni. 

In advance of the program’s 20th year, Executive Director Greig Stewart remarked in the College Park Scholars Annual Report:

“Given our forthcoming 20th anniversary, I am reaching out to alumni.  Each and every one of them is eager to share fond memories of their Scholars experiences.  And in connecting with them, I’m realizing that as much as College Park Scholars is about cultivating life-long learners, we now have the obligation to nurture a life-long program.  By engaging with our alumni, there is endless potential for them to assist each other and for us to bring them together in meaningful and memorable ways.  Equally exciting, we can invite them to contribute to the enrichment of current and future Scholars’ learning and personal development.”

The 20th class of College Park Scholars arrived on August 27th, 2013, convening in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center for yet a new tradition – Scholars Annual Convocation.  And plans are in the works to welcome back all Scholars alumni on November 1, 2014, for a gala event.  As exciting as College Park Scholars' first two decades have been, today is one of the most exciting moments in Scholars' history. The globalization of information and the convergence of technologies and research, demand an informed and talented citizenry. Our governments, industries and educational institutions need people who can think across disciplines while they simultaneously build on the knowledge they have researched more deeply in their major areas of study. Interdisciplinarity and community have been – and continue to be – the foundation of College Park Scholars. Making connections between ideas, people and opportunities is what we practice. Our students—and alumni -- will be well prepared for the world ahead.

College Park Scholars

1125 Cumberland Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742.
Ph 301.314.CPSP (2777), Fax 301.314.9843, Email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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