By 2024, every incoming Ball State undergraduate student will be required to have completed at least one “High Impact Practice” course. Many students have already realized the value that these classes are, and will be, providing.
Erika Malone, ’22, admits she wasn’t quite sure what to expect when she signed up for Dr. Adam Kuban’s class, “Sustainability Stories: Media and Mapping to Promote Awareness of Sustainable Activities.”
On the brink of earning her diploma, Ms. Malone knew her Journalism/Magazine Media major included a requirement for students to take at least six credit hours of High Impact Practices-based coursework. But she thought, “Sustainability? What does that have to do with journalism?”
Yet, one award-winning semester later, after having her work published in newspapers across the state of Indiana, the importance of this High Impact Practices course at Ball State was crystal clear to Ms. Malone.
“I was a little hesitant at first, but the class overall was amazingly helpful,” Ms. Malone said. “I got so much out of it.”
Ball State takes its High Impact Practice initiatives seriously. In fact, by 2024, the University’s strategic plan spells out that, “Every student completes at least one course that includes one of the following high-impact practices: undergraduate research; immersive learning; study abroad or study away; or a course that focuses on a societal issue or global challenge and that engages students with people across diverse disciplines, cultures, and thought.”
Dr. Jackie Grutsch McKinney, director of Immersive Learning and High Impact Practices and a professor of English at Ball State, said research from Dr. George Kuh, founding director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, has put into proper perspective the positive effect these High Impact Practices can have on undergraduate students.
“The research shows that if students participate in at least one of these High Impact Practices, they generally have, across all demographics, a higher GPA, higher graduation rate, and a higher persistence rate,” Dr. Grutsch McKinney said.
Dr. Grutsch McKinney said Ball State intentionally chose its four High Impact Practices categories—Undergraduate Research, Immersive Learning, Study Abroad or Study Away, and Societal Issues or Global Challenge—because, “Students wouldn’t necessarily just ‘bump into’ them along the way in their major; it’s something they have to go out of their way to experience.”
While classes that feature research, Immersive Learning, and study abroad and away opportunities are certainly nothing new at Ball State, Dr. Grutsch McKinney said the University is continuing to develop its fourth High Impact Practices category: Societal Issues or Global Challenge. Those classes, according to definitions provided by the University, will be intended to, “Help students explore cultures, life experiences, and worldviews different from their own.”
“I definitely think these courses are happening in some form on campus already, but we haven’t moved from definition to implementation on that one,” Dr. Grutsch McKinney said. “So, there’s no courses formally right now for that High Impact Practice, because we still have to figure out what would be the requirements for a class to be designated in that way.”
One of the program’s most notable imperatives at Ball State is its focus on providing a positive differential impact on historically underserved student populations. According to Dr. Grutsch McKinney, students in the “historically underserved” category who participate in High Impact Practice courses can significantly “chip away” at long-standing equity gaps that exist in areas such as GPA and graduation and retention rates.
“Historically there’s been this big equity gap in graduation rates for Black and Latinx students, as well as first generation and low-income students,” Dr. Grutsch McKinney said. “So, while our High Impact Practices are not in place just for underserved students—we want all students to participate—the research shows a compensatory effect for traditionally underserved students.
“We think that High Impact Practices are those kinds of experiences that can change students’ trajectories—
or helps them connect with a whole new set of people,” Dr. Grutsch McKinney continued. “I mean, Immersive Learning in particular, they’re working collaboratively, and so they really get to know each other, and it can be profound for them.”
While Ms. Malone was already on the path to earning a degree in Journalism, she said the real-world experience she gained during her Sustainability Stories class with Dr. Kuban set in motion an epiphany of sorts. Her piece about a lack of regulation of private wells in rural Indiana communities appeared in The Star Press in Muncie, the Courier & Journal in Lafayette, and the Courier & Press in Evansville, and was one of several student-created stories that eventually won an award for Best Sustainability Education by Muncie Clean & Beautiful.
Ms. Malone, who graduated from Ball State in December, touted her piece in job interviews, and in January, she began her career as a reporter at The Tribune newspaper in Seymour, Ind. “I would say that the High Impact Practices course really confirmed to me that I wanted to be a journalist. This is the field I’m supposed to be in,” Ms. Malone said. “And especially throughout college students’ studies, it’s important for them to encounter these High Impact Practices, because it gives them real-world experiences.”
As part of the “Sustainability Stories” Immersive Learning project, Dr. Kuban’s Journalism students produce original media content highlighting organizations around the state that prioritize sustainability; Geography students in Dr. Adam Berland’s GIS Design course then incorporate that content into a publicly available, interactive online map.