Penfield College Selected to Participate in AAC&U STIRS Initiative


ATLANTA – Mercer University's Penfield College has been selected to participate in the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning Skills (STIRS) initiative.

Mercer's project proposal, titled “Redesigning Pathways to Signature Work for Nontraditional Students,” was one of only five nationwide to receive funding to participate in a two-year planning effort aimed at improving the capacity of students to use evidence to solve problems and make decisions.

Dr. Wesley Barker, assistant professor of religious studies, will serve as the University's STIRS Fellow and project director. The proposal was co-authored by Dr. Colleen Stapleton, associate professor of science and chair of the Department of Mathematics, Science and Informatics; Dr. Fred Bongiovanni, professor of sociology and religious studies and chair of the Department of Liberal Studies; and Dr. Priscilla Danheiser, dean of Penfield College.

The project aims to create a pathway in the College's general education curriculum to lead nontraditional students toward the development of signature work in their program capstone courses prior to graduation. This work will revolve around research and include the STIRS Framework.

The STIRS Framework supports six competencies that can help to prepare graduates to address critical 21st-century challenges:

Apply study design and statistical reasoning principles, or other relevant frameworks, to obtain and evaluate evidence Discuss how evidence can be used to advance knowledge and/or to inform subsequent research Apply an evidence-based problem solving approach which moves from problem identification, to identification of causal factors, to evidenced-based recommendations for solutions, to evaluation of outcomes Apply an evidence-based decision making approach, identifying elements which frame and drive decision making for problems in the sciences, social sciences and/or humanities Analyze the operation of complex systems using evidence and systems thinking Analyze ethics issues that are inherent in research and use of evidence

“I am most excited about the opportunity participation in AAC&U's STIRS project provides us to strengthen our new outcomes-based general education and its connection to culminating work in our informatics and liberal studies majors,” said Dr. Priscilla Danheiser, dean of Penfield College.

“I anticipate that STIRS will give us a curricular framework for inspiring the creative, artful and disciplined scientific thinking that transforms students into leaders capable of addressing the world's challenges in thoughtful and imaginative ways,” added Dr. Barker.

Dr. Barker will participate, along with the four other STIRS Fellows, in the 2015 AAC&U Institute for Integrative Learning and the Departments, July 14-18, at the University of Delaware.

Following the institute, Fellows, supported by stipends and release time, will continue to collaborate as they initiate conversations at their institutions about preparing students for signature work informed by STIRS. In the second year, each institution will receive a budget to support ongoing STIRS work.

The resulting curricular models will be developed and tested at all types of institutions, peer reviewed and shared nationally through AAC&U's meetings and publications.

AAC&U is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality and public standing of undergraduate liberal education. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,300 member institutions – including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities and comprehensive universities of every type and size. For more information, visit

About Penfield College of Mercer University

Penfield College of Mercer University, established as the College of Continuing and Professional Studies in 2003, is committed to serving non-traditional learners and currently enrolls more than 1,300 students. Undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs are offered to working adult learners seeking professional advancement into leadership roles in and beyond their communities. Educational programs provide students with distinctive, multidisciplinary programs that integrate theory and practice. The College offers general education and elective courses for various colleges and schools at Mercer. Another initiative called the Bridge program transitions students enrolled in Mercer's English Language Institute and other international students to undergraduate programs throughout the University. Areas of study include organizational leadership, counseling, school counseling, human services, human resources, informatics, public safety leadership, nursing preparation, liberal studies, psychology and communication. Programs are offered on Mercer's campuses in Atlanta and Macon, as well as multiple regional academic centers in Douglas County, Henry County and Newnan, and online. To learn more, visit