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HNU’s new Academic Strategic Plan is a hopeful vision for the future that draws on the University’s social justice mission and strong Oakland roots.

If you build it

In 2019, Dr. Sheila Smith McKoy joined Holy Names University as Provost and VP for Academic Affairs. She immediately set to work on a new Academic Strategic Plan (ASP) that would better reflect the University’s current student body and honor the spirit of HNU’s founding sisters.

“Holy Names was founded by six courageous young women—all college-aged. I see a direct connection between those women and our current students. It is young people, like our foundresses and students, that take risks and enact the change that’s needed to make the world better,” stressed Dr. Smith McKoy.

The ASP Task Force, a diverse committee of faculty and staff, led the development of the new strategic plan. Throughout the process they drew on the expertise of a wide variety of community members: student leaders, activists, and representatives of local partner organizations.

“Our new Academic Strategic Plan is really a reboot of the work that the Sisters of the Holy Names have done in Oakland for over 150 years. It embodies all of the excitement and energy around educating students that is the hallmark of a Holy Names education,” said Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, Dean of the School of Education.

The plan is also, in part, a direct response to strong student activism on campus. HNU biology major Shaniah Ritzie ‘21 led a student movement that called for changes to HNU’s core curriculum.

“We took it upon ourselves, as students, to step up and say: How can we see ourselves [in the curriculum]? We know texts we could talk about, we know what we are interested in. So let’s decolonize the curriculum so we can see ourselves reflected,” asserted Ritzie.
Through these collaborations and conversations, the Task Force established the ASP’s five foundational pillars: Social Responsibility, Oakland-Centered, Academic Excellence, Radical Engagement, and Sustainable Learning. These concepts form the acronym and plan’s name: HNU SOARS.

Reimagined curriculum

“HNU SOARS takes things to the next level, recognizing what our society needs today, who our students are, and how to best strengthen their skills to go out and be effective in the community and in the workplace,” said VP for Student Affairs Laura Lyndon.
With students’ needs at heart, the ASP is serving as a blueprint for the University to determine what is taught, how it will be taught, and how HNU will continue to be an ongoing resource for graduates.

“When we think about revolutionizing the curriculum and re-imagining it, it’s for providing access for the student population that we serve. Making the content of our disciplines more meaningful to our students,” said Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Director Rex Ganding.

Guided by ASP’s student-centered vision, two new program offerings were launched in early 2021: a degree program in ethnic studies and a concentration in computer science.
Work is also underway to develop an anti-racism certificate program. The certificate program is expected to launch in 2021, and will be open to everyone—including alumni, faculty, staff, and the general public.

“Students today are really interested in making a difference in society. They want the skills to work in the world, but they also want to be able to make a difference, to solve some of the really big problems that we’re facing,” said Dr. Kim Bowers, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

Technological scaffolds

Digital technology is an exciting and important prong of the ASP. Integrating more tech tools in the classroom will help students build their 21st-century skill set. It will also improve students’ access to education by making more content, classes, and entire programs available virtually.

“We want to help students learn to adapt to our changing world, and the new digital tools that emerge. It’s not necessarily to teach our students to work with a specific technology, but to make them capable of adapting as technology emerges and changes,” said Ganding. “Knowing how to use technology as a tool will help them be successful in a digital workplace and even pioneer new advances.”

COVID-19 has accelerated many of the ASP’s virtual learning goals by necessitating the move of HNU’s coursework online. Faculty have received—and continue to receive—training on how to enhance teaching practices through the use of the Internet.

Additionally, many programs are now available fully online, including HNU’s Master in Business Administration, MA in Applied Sport and Performance Psychology, and Adult Degree Completion bachelor’s degree programs in Business and Interdisciplinary Studies.
“We are investing in educational practices and technologies that honor the collaborative nature of teaching and learning in our rapidly changing world,” said Dr. Smith McKoy. “We will increase the presence of hybrid and online classes. Our students are asking for and need this kind of flexibility.”

Strengthening community

HNU’s strong diversity and activism is a direct reflection of the institution’s location in Oakland. Acknowledging this, the ASP seeks to strengthen HNU’s deep connections to the Oakland community and build new partnerships and opportunities.

“We want to utilize the resources in our Oakland community and in the greater Bay Area— drawing upon the talents that exist, the resources that exist, the programs and the problem-solutions that exist,” affirmed HNU Associate Professor Dr. Talia Moore.

Dr. Smith McKoy shared that agreements are being formalized to engage with students’ parents and provide grants for local high school students. In 2021, HNU launched the Parent Promise program, in which each parent or guardian of a current HNU student can take up to two undergraduate courses for free.

Dr. Smith McKoy emphasized, “We want Holy Names to be that destination spot, not only for our students who start here, but every member of their family and community who believes that they want to soar the way that Holy Names graduates soar.”