chool of Education professor Sari Knopp Biklen teaches students about discrimination and diversity issues in education by exposing them to the voices of people from underrepresented groups. Biklen, a Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence who chairs the Cultural Foundations of Education Program, believes such perspectives are important to helping students truly understand the historical impact of these issues. And while textbooks, lectures, and term papers are useful, she is convinced that the most effective way to present the topic is through the journals, diaries, and other personal writings of those who struggled with discrimination firsthand.

Biklen knew such materials were buried in archives across the country, and she was determined to find them. She envisioned sending students on a personal fact-finding journey–a scavenger hunt of sorts–to discover voices from the past that could drive home the lessons of discrimination and its effect on education.

But the project would take money–to travel to archives, copy documents and store information on CDs, and disseminate the findings to fellow department faculty. So Biklen developed a project proposal titled "Private Documents on Public Issues: Acquisition of Curriculum Resources for Educational Diversity." She submitted the proposal to the Syracuse University Vision Fund, a three-year, $1 million initiative established in 1998 to support visionary, experimental, and creative ideas leading to the improvement of teaching and learning. Biklen’s project was one of 21 selected as a 1999 University Vision Fund award recipient. "The grant was critical in our effort to move forward," she says. "The endorsement and support of the University beyond the monetary was a great motivator for us as well. It’s gratifying to have colleagues behind you and believe in what you’re doing."

According to Frank Wilbur, associate vice president for undergraduate studies and executive director of the Center for Support of Teaching and Learning (CSTL), the Vision Fund was designed to encourage creative experimentation and enhance all facets of the teaching and learning process both inside and outside the classroom. CSTL staff members provide support for faculty seeking funding, helping them refine ideas, write proposals, and eventually assisting grant recipients in implementing the projects. "In addition to encouraging collaboration among disciplines, the Vision Fund is intended to link academic and student affairs initiatives more deliberately and evaluate and share what was learned," Wilbur says.

Last December, 17 projects were awarded grants for 2000, bringing the total number of funded projects to 38. The final cycle begins this fall, although Wilbur hopes the Vision Fund will become a permanent part of the University’s academic environment because it recognizes and supports the creative ideas of faculty and staff. The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs established the Vision Fund through the Fund for Academic Initiatives, a three-year trial program created to enhance innovative learning.

A committee of faculty, staff, and students selects Vision Fund recipients based on how effectively their proposals emphasize innovative teaching and learning, diversity, and interdisciplinary approaches. The committee also considers which projects will have an impact on the greatest number of students. The Vision Fund provides two kinds of grants–small grants of up to $5,000 that support the creative ideas of individual faculty and staff members, primarily at the individual course or small project level; and larger grants of $10,000 to $30,000 that target school, college, and department initiatives. "It’s hard not to get excited about the ideas being explored," Wilbur says. "I’m impressed by the energy, creativity, and commitment of faculty, staff, and students involved in these efforts."

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