Academic Innovation: By Ravens For Ravens

It’s an age-old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. At just over 100 years, though, Anderson University is still looking toward the future.

“Since the recession around 2008, a lot of the normal predictors that private higher-education used to gauge its place in the landscape changed,” says Dr. Joel Shrock, associate provost and the dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Science. “I don’t think private colleges and universities can survive without innovation. It is necessary for us to prosper.”

Dr. Marie Morris, provost, agrees, “Our world is constantly changing and so must our approach to educating each new generation. What may have worked in the past may no longer be relevant. If we are to provide an excellent education for our students, we must be willing to try new things.”

Tim States, director of Work Life Engagement, thinks of this as the Anderson way. “I think we offer a lot of academic freedom that may not be available at other universities.” He notes that faculty who have also taught at other institutions are excited by the opportunity to teach students in the best way they know how, instead of strictly following a lesson plan or textbook.

“In order to take the risk of trying new things, you need to have a culture that is open to failed experiments,” adds Dr. Morris. “Besides, I think one of the best things we can help our students learn is that it is okay to innovate and it is okay to fail. We sometimes, maybe oftentimes, learn more from our failures.”

“Academic innovation is a forward-looking approach to connecting the needs of our students and community with the coursework we offer,” says Dr. Shrock.

So, how is Anderson University looking forward to the future and outward to the needs of the community? President John Pistole could give you a list that includes new majors, athletic programs, and renowned speakers, all of which strive toward the university’s goal of being “distinctive, compelling, and relevant.” These are a few of the many highlights.


Academic innovation means using evidence-based strategies in the classroom in ways that resonate with students,” says Dr. Janell Blunt, assistant professor of psychology. For her students, this has meant using a new technique created by AU student Emily Glassman ’21.

Many classrooms focus on giving information to students, but retrieval practice is a learning strategy that focuses on getting that same information back from them. The trouble with many retrieval practice techniques is that, while they encourage retrieval of information, they can also increase anxiety. Glassman’s activity, which involves splitting the class into two teams who compete together in a game of traditional tic tac toe, aims to encourage learning without the added anxiety.

“When I first began college, my study strategies consisted of rereading the material from my courses right before the exams. As I received feedback on the importance of retrieval on learning, I’ve found ways to improve my education,” Glassman says. “Taking ownership of effective learning strategies, even through simple ways like creating retrieval tic tac toe, makes the process more meaningful.”


Wilderness spirituality has a long tradition in Christianity, and it’s one that will resonate with a lot of students,” says Dr. Samantha Miller, assistant professor of the history of Christianity. “Students who might love to be outdoors or who see God in creation but have trouble knowing what to do with the God they meet inside a stained glass church can take this course as a way of exploring a tradition of spirituality they recognize.”

Recognizing this need, and inspired by a similar course she participated in at Hope College, Dr. Miller developed Backpacking with the Saints, a summer class that explores the tradition of going into the wilderness for spiritual growth.

“The bulk of the class is a two-week Tri-S trip to the Adirondack Mountains,” explains Dr. Miller. “Students will experience how God forms us more into his likeness by being in the wilderness through things like disillusionment, failure, the sheer uncontrollability of nature (and of God), silence, and simplicity.”


After attending the Women in Technology conference in Indianapolis, a group of students asked Dr. Jennifer Coy, chair of the Department of Computer Science, if they could implement the activities presented that led to higher recruitment and retention of women in computing. After their first event in the spring of 2018, they received a grant from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium, a NASA-sponsored organization that funds STEM education in the state of Indiana. This grant allowed them to hold two social events, two technology workshops, and take a group of 20 people to the Indy.Code() conference.

“The Women in Computing (WiC) group is a way for women in computing majors to get to know each other outside the classroom, in a supportive environment. While AU has a relatively high ratio of women in computing majors — about 33% compared to the national average of 18% — I’d like to see more women enter computing careers, and groups like WiC can have a positive impact on this goal,” Dr. Coy says.

“I believe that effective undergraduate education is much more than just what is learned in the classroom. It is so important for students to have educational experiences outside of the classroom.”


President Pistole and Dr. Morris asked Dr. Lynn Schmidt, dean of nursing and kinesiology, to develop something unique for the School of Nursing and Kinesiology. Dr. Schmidt met with an advising committee of alumni and chief nursing officers from the area to ask questions like “What do we need to do to help prepare our students to be successful?”

From these conversations, the Accelerated BSN emerged. It is a second-degree program, for students who have already completed a bachelor’s degree, and one of 10 of its kind offered in Indiana. Students who qualify can earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 21 months, taking many of the same courses with students in the four-year program.

“There has been big growth in the need for registered nurses in the last 10 years,” Schmidt says. “Coupled with many nurses retiring, it has led to a nursing shortage. We hope this program will help address that need.”

The first Accelerated BSN cohort begins classes this summer.


In 2003, Dr. Joani Brandon, professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, started a summer studies program for music education based on the Orff Schulwerk, a developmental approach that attempts to make learning music similar to the way a child plays. It is based on research about how brains are developed and how music is processed.

“You think about the kind of people who have given their lives to make elementary music creative and wonderful, to capture their imaginations, to help them develop their aptitude in music to the fullest potential,” says Dr. Brandon. Those are the people she brings in to teach the summer classes. Those are the people, too, that she believes takes them.

The classes are open to current teachers and AU students alike, and “90% of these teachers, on a teacher’s salary, come and pay to do this themselves,” she adds. “They’re not just doing it to be re-certified. They’re doing it because they want to be better.”

Putting these continuing learners in the same room as AU students, she says, benefits the students, too, with 100% of them placed in amazing jobs for the last 10 years. “It really puts our undergraduates ahead.”


Dr. Anna Stumpf of the Falls School of Business found a way to help the community while also teaching her students. The business experiential lab she started lets students, who may not have any work experience, help local companies with branding, social media, copywriting, event planning, and more.

“A freshman who has nothing at all on their resume could say ‘Second semester my freshman year, I was a part of a group that developed and executed a strategy for a non-profit. Here’s how it performed’,” Dr. Stumpf says. “It’s really important, early and often, that these students see what the work entails. I don’t think they know where they fit or what they’re good at until they’ve had some experience with it.”

“Academics are duplicatable anywhere,” she adds, pointing to how easy it is to learn online. “Experiential learning is one of the most important opportunities in college.”

“Innovative education has to completely focus on the student and how they’re coming to us. True innovation means knowing your students and meeting them where they are with as much real-world application as possible.”

Written by Michael Ulrich BA ’10, excerpted from the Fall 2019 issue of Signatures magazine.

Anderson University is on a mission to educate students for lives of faith and service, offering more than 60 undergraduate majors, 30 three-year degrees, 20 NCAA Division III intercollegiate sports, alongside adult and graduate programs. The private, liberal arts institution is fully accredited and recognized among top colleges for its business, computer science, cybersecurity, dance, engineering, nursing, and teacher education programs. Anderson University was established in 1917 in Anderson, Indiana, by the Church of God.

Please contact with any media requests.