The Cluster Program invites approximately 2,000 first-year students to rigorously explore the pressing “Big Ideas” of our time through an interdisciplinary framework in a highly supportive learning environment. The Program offers each cohort of Cluster students a chance to become part of a vibrant, caring intellectual community with faculty, TAs, and with one another.  The experience of being part of the Cluster Program —  a college within the College — increases students’ sense of academic belonging to the University, heightens their academic engagement, and speeds their time-to-degree.  It also creates a rich teaching community for instructors and TAs within the Cluster Program.

Given these expectations and charge, the development of Clusters is a challenging task that moves through three phases, each lasting multiple months:

Phase I – Conceptualization and Cultivation

This phase involves identification of a compelling “Big Idea” around which gather an “affinity group” of faculty members, typically 5-10 from different departments or schools who share an interest in organizing a Cluster around a given topic.  This is time for inspirational thinking to foster innovative approaches to the topic and imagine grand possibilities for students and scholars exploring a central question or concept. Whether this process is initiated by faculty members and/or by the Cluster Program administration, we offer support for these meetings so that they can be as effective as possible.

Phase II – Development and Implementation

The faculty affinity group works with Cluster administrative staff to develop a course proposal in the context of General Education and Cluster program objectives for review and approval by the relevant Academic Senate Committees (GEGC, FEC, Writing II and Diversity, if appropriate).  This is time for development of student learning goals, to identify a structure and use of evidence-based pedagogy to reach those goals; understanding best practices for assessment in the field may also be a feature of this phase as a syllabus and assignments are designed. At this stage, a core teaching team of ~4 faculty is confirmed to teach in the first iteration of the course, again in coordination with Cluster administration.  Following the Academic Senate’s approval of a proposed Cluster, a budget is prepared, coordination between campus partners (Writing Programs, CAT, the Library) occurs, and the graduate student instructors who will supervise Cluster discussion sections and offer spring seminars are hired and trained in inclusive writing pedagogy.

Phase III – Reflection and Assessment

This phase takes place after the Cluster has been launched and taught for at least one year and can be described as a dedicated time for reviewing the goals of the Cluster in the context of qualitative and quantitative data. This is also a period for multi-year planning through conversations facilitated by the Cluster Program administrative staff. Typically these discussions will be informed by inputs such as the experience of the teaching team and GSIs; the most recent profile of incoming first years; patterns of student comments; and review of current inclusive, evidence-based teaching practice.  Several outcomes can emerge from this phase with respect to the curriculum, pedagogy, or instructional team, including: development or refinement of learning outcomes; modified lectures or lecture sequence; adjustment to assignments or assignment sequence and/or course material; adjustments to teaching team and meetings; enhanced coordination with Cluster campus partners (Writing and Library); or new protocols for preparing GSIs and teaching discussion sections and Spring Seminars.  As more Clusters are created, each Cluster will enter a cycle of rotation and review in which some Clusters are on hiatus in any given year in order to maintain optimal capacity, opportunity and energy for this flagship undergraduate program.