Four universities in the southeast virtually convened on May 18-19 to discuss character and competence in higher education. Samford University’s Orlean Beeson School of Education and The Hope Institute cosponsored, Character Convening, the first event of its kind in higher education.
“This is the first time that higher education partners have gotten together in a format like this specifically related to character development,” said Orlean Beeson School of Education Assistant Professor Kara Chism. “We wanted to talk about what character development looks like in higher education and how we teach it.”
The two-day event brought together faculty from Samford University, the University of Tennessee Knoxville, the University of Alabama and Lipscomb University to hear from two of the most renowned character education experts in the nation, Marvin Berkowitz and Thomas Lickona. Berkowitz is a professor and co-director of the Center for Character and Citizenship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Lickona is a developmental psychologist and professor of education emeritus at the State University of New York at Cortland.
Each university came prepared to discuss and share novel ideas they had incorporated into their programs in the areas of character development, character research and how to incorporate the research into higher education. This was balanced with an eagerness and willingness to learn. In addition to hearing from Berkowitz and Lickona, faculty from each university were able to have curriculum reviewed and share ideas with each other.
The unique event came together after faculty from the four schools met at a conference earlier this year and began discussing their own school’s character journey. They realized they each had something different to offer. At the same time, The Hope Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to equipping educators to cultivate character, was planning to have their curriculum for Hope Leadership Academy reviewed by Berkowitz and Lickona as part of their grant from the Kern Family Foundation. This inspired Chism and Orlean Beeson School of Education Professor Jodi Newton to join forces with The Hope Institute to create the Character Convening event, giving each of these universities a unique opportunity to collaborate and also learn from these experts.
Chism believes honesty and vulnerability on the part of each university contributed to the success of the event.
“This event is important because teaching character is probably the most important thing that educators can do,” said Chism. “You can have all the smarts, but if you don’t have character then it doesn’t do you any good. For us to be able to know how to identify it in ourselves, be able to equip others to identify it in themselves, and then improve on it is huge.”
Samford University and The Hope Institute plan to continue Character Convening and hope to have other universities attend in the future.