The Academic Culture Initiative Showing Promise


A new student advisory board is formed





It was in last fall that this novel program was conceived.


The Vice President of Student Affairs Mr. Michael Jackson and Professor of Political Science Mr. Mark Kann came together and established the ambitious Academic Culture Initiative (ACI), a program designed to enhance the academic life of students and faculty by encouraging intellectual interaction between them outside of the classroom.


“Learning takes place in the classroom, on the campus and in the community”, USC Provost Lloyd Armstrong Jr. had said at that time. “The goal of the Academic Culture Initiative is to enhance and expand that learning, increasing the number of academic experiences that can take place outside the classroom. Those engaged in the life of the mind are being asked to take it to a higher level.”


After recently being approved and funded by the Provost, the Initiative has started in a big way to realize its goals, and is now showing great promise.


Only this Wednesday, the first of the Great Culture Series lectures was held. Ruth Weisberg, Dean of School of Fine Arts, served as the chief speaker of the show, where she shared her life-long passions and dedication to the world of art. This lecture series organized by the ACI will be held monthly, and will help the students learn more about Art, Music and Literature, heightening their diverse cultural experiences.


“It is a great opportunity for students to get a sense of the importance of art, music and literature towards making their lives beautiful,” feels Prof. Kann.


This is just the beginning of the multitude of events in the offing, which were devised during the several brainstorming sessions held with hundreds of faculty and student leaders since last fall.


"This exciting program will positively affect the lives of students and faculty for years to come," Jackson said. "USC is maturing into an institution that is becoming as well known for the vibrancy of its academic culture as it is for its sports program and social activities. In addition, the Academic Culture Initiative will help the university continue to attract the very best students and faculty from around the world."


"It is a very exciting and far-reaching initiative," said Louise Yates, assistant dean of engineering who has served on Academic Culture Initiative planning committees. "As we look at ways to go beyond the classroom, I think it's important to develop in our students an intellectual curiosity about the community and world in which they live. It requires involvement from everyone – faculty, students and staff."


One of the interesting activities being planned is facilitating dinners of students together with faculty at EVK and other dorms.


“Maybe the faculty can even invite students to their home for dinner”, Prof Kann remarks.


Dining together will enable students and faculty to freely share their thoughts and discuss issues of common interests.


“Even simple things like fashioning benches on campus face to face, to form inviting places to sit, can go a long way in increasing faculty-student interaction”, believes Prof Kann. “We are planning to form sets of tables and chairs near Kaprielian Hall, which virtually lacks casual sitting and interaction place.”


ACI has several plans in the works, including a way for helping graduate students gain some teaching experience during their academic term by teaching a few of select courses like USC 100, USC 150, and USC 200. And in the next spring, a multimedia fair is going to be conducted where undergraduate and graduate students from various fields like engineering, arts can display their work in graphics and multimedia.


Also, sophomore seminars may be held, akin to the successful Freshman Seminars, to ensure that they too have a chance to work with distinguished faculty.


Dara Purvis, a political science junior, has volunteered to form the Student Advisory Board, an organization of students run by only students, as part of the Academic Culture Initiative.


“When we held meetings last year, we came to know that, asked about ways to enhance their academic experience, faculty and students gave very different opinions. While faculty was more interested in faculty-student intellectual interactions, students were more interested in ways to improve their job prospects,” notes Kann. “So we came up with this idea of forming a student organization which would represent the views and opinions of students.”


“The Student Advisory Board will set up a sounding board to serve as a forum to discuss the proposals and ideas of the Academic Culture Initiative, a way to get quick student feedback on different ideas”, Purvis explains. “It will also act as the first level of a filter for proposals to use funding of the Academic Culture Initiative.”


“In addition to that, the board will also serve as an activist, where students are encouraged to generate their own ideas for events on campus, and obtain funding from the Initiative”, Prof Kann elaborates. “It’s almost like I am giving a blank check to students…”


The board is also meant to act as a communication medium between the opposite sides of the desks, in order to apprise students of interesting events taking place around the campus.


“But they are free to ignore me”, says Kann. “I have set the basic functions of the board but the students are free to do anything worthwhile…”


Purvis is very enthusiastic about this board, and is getting with the positive response from students.


“The ACI is a great idea to make the educational experience of students more enjoyable and interesting by learning both in and out of the classroom, and discussing with faculty in topics of their interests in a comfortable atmosphere,” Purvis goes ahead. “And the Student Advisory Board will be a great place for students to voice their concerns and ideas right up to the initiative.”


The board has already begun its activities. It held its first meeting last Wednesday which saw a dozen students participating.


“I was very pleased with the response. A lot of students seem very interested in improving the campus atmosphere, and have some great ideas on how to do it,” explains Purvis. “Ideas like utilizing the coffee houses on campus more to give students a place to gather and have informal discussions especially for commuter students, have got good support.”


Students interested in participating in the board can email Dara Purvis at


In this age of distance education over the internet, people often question - what are the advantages of on-campus education?


Prof Mark Kann is confident about the benefits of extra-classroom faculty-student interaction propounded by the ACI.


“I believe this is the answer,” he says.