Catalytic Opportunities

I’ve begun thinking about strategic initiatives as catalytic.

In chemistry, a catalyst causes a chemical reaction without itself being affected. But this isn’t exactly what I have in mind, because I don’t mind if the catalyst itself is enriched by its own activity. Rather, I am thinking about initiatives that, when they are undertaken, infuse multiple strategic priorities with enriching energy.

Perhaps that is too abstract. Here is an example of what I would like to call a catalytic opportunity.

My predecessor, Karin Wurst, established a Technology Teaching Assistantship for graduate students in the arts and humanities that provides one assistantship to each graduate program in the College. My colleagues, Bill Hart-Davidson, Associate Dean for Graduate Education, and Scott Schopieray, Assistant Dean for Technology and Innovation, have integrated these Tech Teaching Assistants into a wider Graduate Certificate in College Teaching program. The certificate is designed to mentor and train the next generation of undergraduate teachers. Graduate students with a Tech TA are able to use the certificate curriculum to focus on basic principles of instructional design and best practices for teaching and learning with technology.

The Tech TA initiative already had a catalytic dimension insofar as it advanced two priorities at once: 1) to enhance the competitive advantage of our graduate students as they enter a very tight job market and 2) to provide our graduate programs with sustainable support that would allow them to reallocate program resources in strategic ways.

The graduate focus of the Tech TA initiative is shifted by the Graduate Certificate in College Teaching, which catalyzes that energy by advancing an important undergraduate priority: to improve the quality of our undergraduate teaching. The catalytic energy of these two initiatives, however, also position us to strategically address another undergraduate priority: to improve our time to degree rates. By training graduate students to design compelling summer online courses that are strategically targeted at those courses students need to complete their majors or minors in a program, students are better able to take full advantage of the summer as they progress toward graduation.

These summer courses, in turn, generate some revenue back to the College and the programs that can be used to further enhance and support the catalytic initiatives. This is why, in addition to thinking about them as “catalytic initiatives,” I also talk about them as creating a virtuous circle in which resources are generated to support the main graduate and undergraduate mission of the College.

So as I talk to faculty and colleagues across the campus, I am listening for what might be called “catalytic opportunities” that will allow us to improve the quality of the education we offer and the research we undertake.

What catalytic opportunities have you encountered? Are there ways we in the College of Arts and Letters at MSU can help further catalyze them?