Nurturing the Learning Experience

                                                        schmitt shoots!!
School of Management professor Sandra Hurd G'75 is an advocate for learning communities on campus.

Sandra Hurd came to Syracuse University to attend the College of Law and never left. More than 25 years later, she is professor and chair of the law and public policy department in the School of Management (SOM), faculty coordinator for learning communities at SU, director of SOM’s freshman gateway course, and the recipient of a Chancellor’s Citation for Outstanding Contributions to the University’s Academic Programs and a Faculty Award for Exceptional Teaching for her “unceasing efforts to make the learning experience rigorous, relevant, and pleasurable.”
      After graduating from the College of Law in 1975, Hurd clerked for the Onondaga County Court and was an adjunct teacher and visiting professor on the Hill. “When a faculty position opened in the School of Management, I went for it,” Hurd says, “although it was scary to leave the security of my county court job for the uncertainty of going through the academic tenure process.”
      Hurd was an English major at Wells College before heading to law school. She’s an avid reader who can usually be found walking around with a book in hand, even while cooking or brushing her teeth. It’s this unquenchable thirst for knowledge that permeates every facet of Hurd’s academic life. In addition to her teaching and research activities, she piloted the management school’s learning communities, supported by the Office of Academic Affairs and the Vision Fund. Now, as faculty coordinator for SU’s learning communities, she will help mesh the residential life programs—international, multicultural, health and wellness—with academics. “Learning communities are a fascinating phenomenon,” Hurd explains. “Syracuse University was the first big private research university to get involved.”
      According to the latest research, there are many advantages for students who participate in learning communities. More opportunities for informal interaction with faculty and peers lead to better study habits, stronger interpersonal skills, greater comfort with diversity, and a deeper sense of self-confidence. “Eliminating the intimidation factor and making faculty more approachable breaks down psychological barriers to learning,” Hurd says. “Students involved in learning communities spend more time on task and become more involved in campus activities. They are the students most likely to become resident advisors, mentors, and campus leaders.”
      Hurd says there are good indications that learning communities offer advantages to the University as well. They help SU recruit and retain the best students; grade-point averages are higher among participants; and faculty satisfaction increases. She makes it clear that faculty members involved in learning communities must be committed to them. “With classes and office hours held in residence halls, faculty involved in learning communities may have to work some evenings and weekends,” she says. “But faculty are happier because they know they’re doing the right thing for their students.”
      As director of SOM’s freshman gateway course, Hurd helped “beef up” the course’s content to provide support for students in their transition to University life and to introduce them to such useful resources as the school’s undergraduate office and the career center. Most importantly, the course is designed to help first-year students understand the current art and science of management, the various management areas, and themes that contribute to a business organization and the relationships among the themes. “The freshman gateway course helps students develop computer, library, research, and communication skills, and the ability to work in teams,” Hurd says. “The team project gives them insight into how industry works and teaches them to value teamwork as an intrinsic part of business today.”
      Away from campus, Hurd can be found tending the vegetables, herbs, and flowers in her garden. During the winter months, she grows her own plants from seed and spends hours poring over garden and seed catalogs in anticipation of the coming growing season. “Nurturing my plants and flowers isn’t that much different than nurturing my students,” Hurd says. “It’s so much fun to watch them blossom and grow.”
                                                                                                                                                —CHRISTINE YACKEL

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