WSCC core abilities

January 30, 2013

lkstichWest Shore Update.

A blog by Dr. Lisa Stich, Vice President of Academic and Student Services.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received in life was the gift of writing. I didn’t consider it a gift at the time, because the college I attended made me work harder than I thought possible to learn this gift, but it is something for which I am grateful every day of my adult life. That’s one reason I am so excited about the new core abilities initiative at West Shore Community College.

What are core abilities? They are essential skills that persons need to be successful across the many roles we play in life – student, parent, employee, employer, and citizen. Because they are so integral, the college is placing increasing emphasis on core abilities as part of our curriculum. West Shore’s core abilities are: communicate effectively, think critically and creatively and act professionally.

Core abilities have always been important. Reading this, you may be saying, “Well, of course these things are important, they always have been.” And you are right. These skills form the basis for the definition of an educated person and a skilled worker. Even so, they are the most common response we hear from business owners about what the college can do to help them recruit and retain qualified employees.

Study after study, both nationally and here in Western Michigan, cites the need for additional emphasis on the core abilities. A recent study conducted by the Michigan Colleges Foundation for Talent 2025, a Western Michigan coalition of business and education CEOs dedicated to ensuring a healthy supply of world-class talent, cites critical thinking at the top of the list, followed by teamwork, responsibility, communication and problem solving.

So, if we know these core abilities are so important, why do we still struggle? Some say it is due to the rise in electronic communication. We have migrated from letter writing, to emails, to brief emails and now to texting and tweeting. Others call it a loss of the importance of personal relationship. Still others blame it on the pace of the world we live in, and that no one takes time for manners and respect anymore.

Meg Wheatley, author of So Far From Home: Lost and Found in our Brave New World, asks us to attend to how our priorities have changed and our distractions have increased, “Do you remember having time to think with colleagues and family to work out problems, rather than just shooting off rapid-fire texts? Do you remember when we used to walk into a colleague’s office to ask a question rather than fire off an email? Do you recall when you enjoyed taking time for conversation?”

Regardless of where you attribute the struggle, we at West Shore could not agree more about the importance of the core abilities. A group of dedicated faculty has worked to identify those core skills that should be emphasized in the college’s curriculum. That list, which began with over 19 skills, has been pared down to the essential few. We believe, I believe, that if we teach students to be effective thinkers and communicators, and to behave with professionalism and respect, we are giving them skills that will serve them well all their lives – wherever they land after they leave us.

Beginning this winter term, West Shore is launching a new effort to focus on writing. While students write in many of our courses now, we are working to expand that expectation to all courses we offer and to be overt and consistent in describing what good writing looks like. Yes, even in math class, writing is an effective way to learn and document the process of solving problems.

Writing requires writers to consider who they are writing for (audience), what they want tell them (content), and how to convey that information clearly and concisely (structure and mechanics). It is an expression of thinking that is a powerful tool for life. And I am so excited to have the opportunity to pay it forward – to pass on this wonderful gift I was given to others.

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