Opportunities for learners of all backgrounds enriches campus

Adult students Jason Brinkman and Sandy Barrera were doing well in their careers, but they knew there was a higher plateau they could reach in their respective companies — if only they had a Bachelor’s degree. The education and experience they could gain in the classroom could result in promotions and salary increases, and would certainly contribute to a sense of personal accomplishment.

After more than a decade of serving lifelong learners, Mount Mercy understands that adult students returning to the classroom desire an opportunity to strengthen their skills, learn from their peers and earn their degree — all in a comfortable, convenient environment. Increasingly, adult students who are developing their careers know that the values-based education they receive at Mount Mercy is of direct benefit to their working lives and communities.

In 2009–10 Mount Mercy made significant strides in offering more adult students the opportunity to experience its distinct brand of values-driven education. Building on its relationship with Kirkwood Community College, Mount Mercy began offering courses in Business and Applied Management at the Jones Regional Educational Facility in Monticello. A promising relationship with Hawkeye Community College in the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area spurred the institutions to collaborate, leading to Mount Mercy offering Bachelor’s degrees in Management or Applied Management on the Hawkeye campus.

For students in the Cedar Valley, a Mount Mercy education offers a stepping-stone to career growth and personal fulfillment, and doesn’t have to come at the cost of family and personal time. “I’ve been applying things [at my job] I’ve learned from my management class and my organizational behavior class,” says Brinkman, product development specialist with John Deere. “I’ve applied a lot of ideas to my workforce already.” Barrera, revenue audit manager at the Isle of Capri in Waterloo, appreciates the convenience of the class scheduling. “The schedule is great,” she says. “Mount Mercy is flexible in finding a schedule that works for me — allowing me to do outside work on my own time is really convenient. And my classes have helped me understand other departments [at Isle of Capri] and all aspects of business in general.”

While fully understanding and integrating the adult learner into Mount Mercy’s community is a top priority for the institution, the opportunities for traditional-age students continue to grow as well. At its heart and founding, Mount Mercy is a residential campus catering to the intellectual, spiritual and physical development of the 18- to 22-year-old learner. One specific initiative in 2009–10 was aimed at bolstering student success and interaction with faculty.

This past year served as the inaugural year for Living Learning Communities in the residence halls. LLCs — as they are known — are intended to promote a deeper engagement and connection between students’ co-curricular activities and academic courses. LLCs create a small, close-knit community with the participants — creating lasting friendships and increasing students’ desire to engage in college activity. An increase in student retention is often a positive by-product of successful LLCs. Two pilot LLCs began in 2009–10; one dedicated to students majoring  in nursing and the other for students interested in using faith-based service learning to impact other students and their surrounding communities.

Freshman Casey Gaul from Dyersville, Iowa, was part of the Nursing LLC, and was pleased with the experience. “Being a part of an LLC was better than I could have imagined because of the amazing bond my floor had right away,” she says. “I knew that we all had common interests and that made the experience of living away from home for the first time much easier for me.” This academic year, Gaul will be a Resident Advisor on the Nursing LLC floor so that she can use her experience to mentor others.

Mount Mercy’s expertise in creating and implementing LLCs is also being recognized within the higher education community. This past month, Residence Hall Director Allison Layne Huey traveled to North Carolina to present her experiences in integrating LLCs into existing residence life facilities at an international conference. Huey’s presentation, “Identifying and Maximizing Campus Resources for Start-Up Programs,” included insight into how Mount Mercy began two pilot Living Learning programs and how they became an institutional priority for growth.