Matthew Mayhew is an associate professor of higher education in Steinhardt’s Department of Administration, Leadership and Technology. His research explores the impact of college on student outcomes. His current project is IDEALS, a longitudinal study that looks at the role of spirituality in students’ lives.
You study how college influences students. What about this question intrigues you?
College is the great intervention. Nowhere else do we, as educators, have the opportunity to design learning experiences for students from all walks of life.
So much rightful attention is paid to issues of access, ranging from race-based to need-blind admissions policies, as examples. What underscores these policies and the ubiquitous amount of attention they receive is the idea that participation in college leads to economic mobility AND active participation in a diverse democracy. It’s one thing to make college accessible to all; the questions that keep me up at night are the, “so now what? What do we do with students once they’re here?”
Global conflict is rooted in religious intolerance. As American institutions continue to expand their reach into international markets through strategic partnerships with global partners and through the recruitment of more international students to campus, we, as educators, need to create curricular and co-curricular experiences that help students from all faith and non-faith based traditions innovate to solve the global problems facing the 21st century. My work helps build the argument that productive exchange across religious difference is a necessary condition for creating solutions to global problems.
How can colleges better shape the students for the challenges of the world outside?
I am struggling with this question a bit, as I am becoming increasingly skeptical about the idea of college as an insulated experience, untouched by the world “outside.” What colleges do provide is a space for exploring some of the tough issues facing the world. Effective educators will use what is going on in the outside world as a pedagogical tool for teaching students the skills needed to innovate and problem solve.
So, what can colleges do? Teach students to innovate. A large part of my research agenda pivots on this fundamental idea — that innovation can be taught. And, guess what, it can. Of course, there are no silver bullets here, but teaching innovation is something educators may be uniquely positioned to do.
Where else can students openly try, fail, recover, and recast? Turning to specifics, my research has shown that innovation intentions are related to classroom practices: Educators can assess how students use theories, frameworks, and narratives to create case studies rather than respond to them; to develop an informed opinion rather than merely articulating competing hypotheses; to argue for a position as opposed to just taking one.
Keeping in mind, once again, that there are no silver bullets; I think the idea that innovation can be taught, at least to some degree, is powerful and may serve as one way of responding to the many critics who continue to question the values and purposes of higher education.