Innovative Program Based on Student Voice
Since its founding, MPA has pioneered whole child education in the Twin Cities, committing to unique and enriching experiences that help students deepen their understanding of themselves and the world around them. As a leader, we continually innovate in alignment with those core values, providing experiences that are challenging to replicate anywhere else.
One visionary program is our Graduate Certificate of Distinction (GCD). Launched in 2015, it's aimed at inspiring educational quests in one of three areas: Global Studies, Science Technology Engineering Math & Design (STEM), and Fine Arts. The amount of individualized engagement required to successfully support Upper School students who pursue this challenge can only be offered by a dedicated faculty that interacts one-on-one with each candidate.
Faculty Advisors Kari Kunze (Global), Lisa Buck (Fine Arts), and Jane Anderson (STEM) share, "Over the years, Upper School faculty and administrators observed amazing kids pursuing what could only be described as 'passion projects'—students who dove into fields purely to spend time deepening their understanding. They were not necessarily those with the highest test scores or GPAs, but students who were independently driven to quench their own thirst for knowledge."
Consistent with the essence of student voice—where students actively shape curriculum and impact education—MPA wanted to encourage and recognize excellence that takes place outside of our already rigorous curriculum. The GCD program was designed to provide committed students a way to formalize their work. Further, it embodies MPA's willingness to encourage engagement between students and teachers. "What those kids offer, in terms of sharing what they've pursued, is extremely inspiring to us as teachers and advisors," says Kunze. Buck adds, "The role of the faculty is to incite curiosity, help build confidence, and cheer them on, but we gain a great deal in the process."
The GCD program is not a one-size-fits-all concept, nor is it for the majority of students. It's a time-consuming experience for juniors and seniors who are already naturally exploring multiple subjects in depth. And it's clear that the student must be leading the process to make this work.
"If you imagine the candidate in front of the line with the advisor close behind and their family supporting from the rear, that's a good model," observes Buck. The faculty advisor serves as a sounding board or brainstorming partner and parents can help by factoring their student's area of passion into family activities (such as choosing what to do during vacations), but ultimately the student is responsible for seeking out new experiences that support the GCD honor.
We checked in with recent alumnus Pranay Somayajula '18—a freshman at The George Washington University—who shares, "I chose to pursue the Global Certificate. By far, the most valuable part of the program was the way it motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and explore the full range of cultural and foreign-policy opportunities the Twin Cities has to offer."
As alumna Maija Olson '17 reflects on her Global Certificate, "The freedom to guide my learning offered a new kind of independence. I enjoyed the ability to deeply explore various world issues and focus on something I was truly passionate about." For her final project, Olson and other MPA students created a website: talesofindifference.com. One of their articles is currently featured in an exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
In terms of unexpected outcomes, the final presentations to faculty have turned out to be transformational for students. Even when candidates were extremely nervous to get up before their teachers and present their reports at the end
of their senior year, one could sense a level of maturity and empowerment along with a feeling of great accomplishment, once they were done. Alumna Alex Esch '18 remarks that although she would've completed all the necessary hours in the Fine Arts area because of her personal interest, "The presentation requirement was incredibly valuable because it gave me the opportunity to share my passion and all the work I completed with teachers and fellow classmates. It was amazing to feel the support of the MPA community—especially from my personal advisor, Ms. Buck—as I expressed my love of the fine arts. She was always willing to answer questions and just be there as part of my artist's journey." It is truly a unique opportunity to be recognized by academic elders who have served as mentors and who can now formally honor the students' hard work and devotion to education.
For more detailed information on MPA's Graduate Certificate of Distinction program, visit: moundsparkacademy.org/gcd.