Compass Points Students in the Right Direction
From the Record, Summer 2023
By Alexandra Evans
“This year’s graduates really are pioneers,” says Elliott Professor of English Sarah Hardy, who has captained the Compass program since its inception. “They taught us about experiential learning as much as they learned from us and had to overcome a lot of adversity in the midst of COVID.”
The program got a stellar endorsement from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in his 2023 Hampden- Sydney commencement speech. Dr. Tyson said, “Reviewing your curriculum, I noticed you have this Compass program. I love it. I wish we had that when I was in college because it recognizes that not all knowledge is coming from a book.”
Compass takes the traditional model of teacher-centered learning—where an instructor deposits information into the mind of a passive learner—and flips it on its head. By positioning the student as both teacher and learner and the instructor as an active facilitator, Compass creates a cyclical dynamic of experience, observation, reflection, and experimentation that deepens and refines the student’s understanding of a topic and its place in broader conversations.
Launched in 2019, the program requires that students complete at least three Compass courses, with at least one course having a significant off-campus component such as an internship, study abroad program, or service in the community. Compass has been integrated into the fabric of the College with support from offices like the Ferguson Career Center, the Office of Global Education, and the Flemming Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
“Over the past four years, we have seen how this teaching philosophy of active learning combined with intentional reflection has impacted courses across the whole curriculum,” says Professor of Psychology Jenn Vitale, who will assume direction of the program in the fall semester. “These ideas and techniques encourage students to make connections across disciplines and draw links between what they are doing in class and their lives outside of the classroom, expanding and influencing their H-SC experience. In many colleges and universities, the academic and co-curricular components might be kept separate or as part of a program that only some students participate in. At Hampden- Sydney, all of our students are exposed to this approach, and there is a framework for the curricular and co-curricular to be brought together in a really meaningful way.”