Strengthening Jesuit Education

A major gift and a new campus-based institute are helping Creighton University keep its driving focus on the liberal arts and humanities.

At a strategic planning forum Thursday, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Bridget Keegan, PhD, and director of the Kingfisher Institute for the Liberal Arts and Professions Tracy Leavelle, PhD, provided updates on the Leading with the Liberal Arts goal they are helping steward.

Focusing on the enhancement of liberal arts teaching and research across the University, Keegan highlighted last year’s $10 million gift from George and Susan Haddix, which has been earmarked for enhancing undergraduate advising and mentoring, supporting innovative faculty research and a facilities upgrade, all of which are in full swing.

“It’s important that our students have state-of-the-art STEM facilities and it’s a wonderful opportunity that our students have to learn and do research in the renovated labs,” said Keegan, highlighting especially the renovation taking place at the Rigge Science Building, where updated spaces are optimizing student learning and allowing faculty to take advantage of cutting edge pedagogy.

The Faculty Research Incubator will help arts and sciences faculty stay on the leading edge of Creighton’s, the nation’s, and the world’s discoveries — something that is especially relevant now that Creighton’s Carnegie classification has been upgraded to a doctoral university. Also toward that end, the University has established the “24th Street STEM Corridor” that reaches out to the three major high schools located along that stretch—North, Central, and South—and gives high-schoolers an opportunity to see university research up close with Creighton faculty and undergraduate researchers and offers them a generous scholarship to attend Creighton.

“I’m very happy for what the research future of Creighton is going to look like, given this gift,” Keegan said.

As the vanguard of the Jesuit, Catholic university, the liberal arts are also helping inform the College of Arts and Sciences’ Ignatian Advising Program, giving arts and sciences students a more intentional process for discerning their pathway at Creighton and beyond.

“It’s unique, even among Jesuit campuses,” Keegan said. “We see it as a way to inculcate in our students an appreciation of our Jesuit, Catholic heritage, which is grounded in the liberal arts. We are inviting students to be reflective about how they will use their gifts to be leaders and agents of positive change in their communities.”

As the Kingfisher Institute begins to look forward to its second year of existence, Leavelle said the first was a good indication of the direction this multidisciplinary institute—yoking the liberal arts and humanities to health and other professions—is going.

The Institute takes its name from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” which contains the line, “I say more.”

“‘I say more,’” Leavelle said in initiating his presentation. “Because we really intend to do more with the Kingfisher Institute. We are supporting integrative approaches to education, research and community engagement.”

The Institute is supported by three main pillars: curriculum innovation, transdisciplinary research and enhancing the intellectual climate of the University.

In its first year, the Kingfisher Institute took on two themes to draw the University into a wider conversation: Race in America from 1919-2019, and Narratives of Health and Illness. Both themes were highlighted by book readings, faculty, staff, and student conversations, incorporation of the themes in curriculum, and efforts at community engagement.

“The challenges of the 21st century are not contained to any particular discipline,” Leavelle said. “Transcendent challenges require transcendent approaches.”

A recent example of the Kingfisher Institute’s work was a lecture presented by Richard Rothstein, author of the groundbreaking book The Color of Law, which studied the racist underpinnings of U.S. federal housing policy. The lecture drew more than 500 people to campus and generated conversation echoing across disciplines and neighborhoods.

Such events, Leavelle said, are aimed at making the Kingfisher Institute, “famous and free.”

“Famous because we intend to be recognized nationally for the work we’re doing,” he said. “And free because that recognition for doing something unique and transformational will help us earn funding through gifts, grants and donations.”

Already, there’s cross-faculty engagement taking place with the Institute’s fostering. Later this year, undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences and students in the health sciences will have the opportunity to see faculty crossover to teach courses with titles such as “Narratives of Neuro-Diversity,” “Childbirth and Social Justice,” and “Dickens, Disease, and Death.”

“It’s exactly the kind of thing the Kingfisher Institute wants to facilitate,” Leavelle said. “People are finding shared interests and wanting to work together.”

The Leading with the Liberal Arts goal is also putting together metrics to measure the effectiveness of its programming and hopes to have more ways to demonstrate how a Creighton education, infused by Jesuit, Catholic values and guided by those studies that have always hewed toward greater understanding among humans, is creating more well-equipped and compassionate graduates.