Q&A with Jeanne Widen
- #1 in Illinois
- #14 in the country
Jeanne Widen Ph.D., the Associate Dean for Loyola's School of Continuing and Professional Studies met with our in-house reporter to discuss the school's current rankings, and it's commitment to provide quality, affordable and real-world education to adult learners.
Can you tell me a little about Loyola’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, its programs, and students?
We prepare our students to lead, succeed, and create meaning: our programs are designed to help our students develop their leadership potential, grow professionally, and define their own mission and values through a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. Our school serves working adult students, many of whom have families and other responsibilities. Most of our students are returning to school to finish their bachelor’s degrees, and we also have students who are seeking a professional certificate to help further their career development. We offer application-oriented programs in flexible formats to provide an education that is both relevant and feasible for adult learners. Our students bring a wealth of experience to the classroom, and we hear from them too that they can apply what they learned in class to their jobs.
Loyola is nationally recognized and ranked for its online bachelor programs. The School of Continuing and Professional Studies has a number of online degree offerings. What sets the online programs at SCPS apart from other universities?
Our online programs are distinguished not only by the quality of our instruction and student services, but by the strength of our community. First, we put considerable time and resources into faculty training, development, and instructional design assistance, to make sure that our online courses meet the highest standards. Similarly, we prepare our students for online learning when they enter the program and provide ongoing, personalized, and high-touch support throughout the duration of their studies.
We don’t differentiate between our online and on-campus programs; most of our faculty teach online as well as in the classroom. All of our students receive accessible and immediate support, regardless of whether they come to campus or are served remotely. We enable virtual participation in our school events to further create the sense of community and inclusion. Ultimately our online programs are distinguished by the meaningful interaction and strong bonds that are formed between our students and our faculty and staff.
Teacher preparation is integral to student success and the success of the University’s online programs. How is SCPS preparing faculty to best serve students in an online course environment?
We do a great deal to ensure our faculty are the best online instructors possible. First, all of our instructors are trained to teach online in a preparatory course. Then, they are assigned a faculty mentor in their first, fourth, and eighth course and after ten courses are eligible for promotion and may become mentors themselves. We also offer ongoing faculty development and instructional design assistance for online teaching and provide personalized attention to faculty to address any instructional concerns. We conducted a formal assessment of our online programs that led to concrete measures that improved instructional performance. Finally, we created a culture of engagement, inclusion, and rewards that motivates our faculty and gives them a stake in the school. This all translates into proficient, committed, and engaged instructors in the online classroom.
How is SCPS carrying out the Loyola mission to “expand knowledge in the service of humanity through learning, justice, and faith” and “to prepare people to lead extraordinary lives”?
At SCPS, we make learning possible for busy adults and enable them to transform their lives. Our flexible and applicable course formats are a direct result of this mission to make education accessible to non-traditional students who may need to support themselves and their families while going to school. We give a second chance and the needed resources to people who might not otherwise have been able to achieve the kind of transformation that higher education affords. While most of our students obtain advancement in their fields upon graduating from our program, many have gone on to choose other professional paths that focus directly on helping others. In either case, our graduates are eager and equipped to make an impact on the world.
And finally, in your time at Loyola, how have SCPS students influenced and inspired you?
I’m encouraged by the way they value and appreciate their education and how much they bring to it and therefore how much they get from it. They don’t take it for granted; their commitment of time and money makes them active partners in their education. It’s remarkable to see how much people can grow when they work hard and truly want to learn and better themselves. Upon reaching graduation, our students are often deeply moved by what they’ve achieved and are grateful for all of our efforts. It’s enormously gratifying for our faculty and staff to serve them; it makes us want to go above and beyond, just as we encourage them to do. Our students show us how transformation is possible at any stage in life, especially when one approaches it with a sense of gratitude and perseverance.