Rethinking education together.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle
Now, I’m no philosopher, but Aristotle tends to know his stuff. I’d like to think, however, that he would be open to a slight revision: “With the right team, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The key to this kind of value-add is teamwork, organization, and shared vision. Under these circumstances, each individual achieves more than they would alone.
Members of the Cross College Alliance
New College of Florida
State College of Florida
Ringling College of Art and Design
University of South Florida Sarasota-manatee
But this kind of team isn’t the norm. It’s exceptional. I found such a team two years ago when I was brought into the rollout of the region’s first higher education consortium—then referred to as the C4 (Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast). The project was huge: over the next two years, several institutions of learning would come together under an umbrella organization to promote a shared vision for the Sarasota/Manatee region. That vision was to provide combined learning and social opportunities that would help transform our town into a destination for higher education. A true “college town” that offered more than these institutions could offer alone. Or, a whole that is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.
Over the last two years, and under the leadership of Initiative Manager Laurey Stryker, these institutions began to iron out the details of realizing their monumental vision. It took an extraordinary effort from countless teams across all organizations to get where we are today: The Cross College Alliance (CCA). Stryker comments on the many levels of teamwork needed to pull the CCA together: “There were earlier projects undertaken to create an education corridor, but this collaboration goes much deeper. The Cross College Alliance crosses campus programs, student activities, and efficiencies. To make this happen, Alliance members had to develop a sustainable foundation to truly ‘rethink education together.’”
And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Meet the teams that bringing the Alliance to life:
Creating a College Town
The visionaries and masterminds behind the Consortium, the Presidents and Executive Directors identified the need for collaboration among the region’s major educators nearly five years ago and sparked the conversations that started it all. The idea? Together, institutions would provide richer learning experiences for their students, faculty, staff, and members (Ringling Museum) and develop the Gulf Coast of Florida into a bona fide College Town and region of higher education and academic excellence.
Dr. Larry R. Thompson, President of Ringling College, elaborates, “This is a unique collaboration in so many ways because it involves public universities, a museum that is part of a public university, and a private college. Trying to have such diverse institutions with such diverse missions work together is so rewarding when you envision what can actually be the outcome for the academic communities and the entire Sarasota/Manatee region. A major result of this Alliance is that people can now view higher education in this region holistically, rather than individually. It’s as if we created a ‘multiversity’ here in this region with nearly 20,000 students.”
One of the first outcomes of the Alliance was a system for cross-registration. The idea was to empower students at any Alliance institution to take a course at another member institution without money changing hands. The result is a more robust and targeted educational experience for the students; for example, although we teach Liberal Arts at Ringling College, many of our students want to learn a foreign language as well. Since we don’t offer those courses, they can develop their skills at New College, State College of Florida, or USF Sarasota-Manatee. Likewise, students at the other institutions can take an art or design class at Ringling College.
The team of Registrars was responsible for making cross-registration a reality—and it was not by any means an easy task. From curriculum restrictions to technology requirements, the Registrars dealt with myriad details and challenges involved in such a monumental project. As a result, cross-registration piloted in fall of 2016 with a handful of students and now welcomes 20 students per year to take courses at member institutions. According to Stryker, “Cross-registration creates a platform to build specialized programs which amplify the strengths across the Alliance.” For example, the Academic Vice Presidents are exploring curricula involving many colleges that could serve our diverse cultural sector.
Building a Brand
The Communications groups were tasked with connecting with the community and developing the brand of the Consortium. After polling their respective student bodies and community stakeholders, the team brought in the Ringling College Design Center to develop a visual identity. Together, the teams branded the group The Cross College Alliance, and the Design Center provided the logo and visual branding. This paved the way for the consortium to enjoy its first online presence: a landing page for students to participate in cross-registration and learn more about the group.
Navigating New Social Networks
Without a doubt, this is one of the most popular requests among the Alliance, as it grants participants the opportunity to network with and meet students and faculty from neighboring campuses. This element of the Cross College Alliance is vital to the goal of bringing separate campus communities together as one. The Offices of Student Life have been hard at work providing and promoting opportunities such as the Ringling Underground, New College New Music Series, and programs at the Sarasota Museum of Art— all of which are free for students, faculty, and staff of Cross College Alliance institutions. For students, a new four-sport CCA League started just this spring.
Furthering Student Futures
Alliance members share the goal of making our region attractive to and easy for recruiters and employers. This kind of collaboration bolsters all of our students’ futures and brings talent to Sarasota/ Manatee. To take our individual offerings to the next level, the Career Services teams plan shared recruiting and networking events, open to all students of the Alliance. Events include Mind the Gap, which connects regional leaders/CEOs with students to exchange perspectives; Career Networking Events; and the first Grad Fair, hosted at the Ringling College Goldstein Library, which welcomed students to network with schools such as Carnegie Mellon ETC, New York Academy of Art, School of Visual Studies, and more.
Powering the Plan
A true testament to the community support for the Alliance is in the assistance and collaboration from the region’s most involved and impactful foundations, including the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and the Manatee Community Foundation. This unique collaboration of the higher education institutions is mirrored by the unique collaboration of these visionary foundations, for it is they who have been instrumental in providing the seed funding and in moving forward the goals of the Alliance since its inception and continuing today.
There you have it—a whole that is greater, stronger, smarter, richer, and more robust than the sum of its parts. And it’s just getting started.
By Stephanie Lederer
Stephanie Lederer is the Editor of CONTXT magazine and the Editorial & Public Relations Manager for Ringling College.