Students, faculty and staff returned to campus in January with a new academic schedule and an expanded selection of extracurricular opportunities.
The university switched to a 4-day academic week and designated Focus Fridays as a time when the university family can join together in learning, service and rest.
Why a 4-Day Week?
Progressive companies across the United States have implemented a 4-day week in recent years to increase productivity, improve employee engagement, and provide better work/life balance for employees. While popular in the tech and business sector, this schedule is a rarity in higher education.
However, University of Mobile is uniquely positioned to incorporate this approach, fulfilling its mission to provide spiritual and intellectual development in a holistic way.
“We came to the conclusion that same type of structure could help us in both developing the head knowledge for students, but also the heart knowledge – and in terms of our faculty and staff, help them achieve that same work/life balance,” says Dr. Chris McCaghren, vice president for academic affairs. “We are providing our students with opportunities to really grow spiritually and eternally the same way that other parts of the week we help them to grow in their knowledge base.”
According to University President Timothy L. Smith, helping students discover their imago Dei – who they are as image bearers of God – requires more than just classroom instruction. It requires living out those concepts in service to others before they graduate and enter the world.
“It’s really about helping students come to understand there’s a place to take what you’ve learned off this campus, into the community, serve the people for the purpose of Christ, and that is the reflection of the imago Dei, and that’s what we need to do,” says Smith.
This unique approach to learning means that students attend classes Mondays through Thursdays. On Fridays, students focus on extra-curricular activities and student life experiences.
These experiences can include internships, field experiences, academic clubs and honor societies. Students may volunteer in the community with faculty or build mentoring relationships with local organizations. Students can also choose to pursue their own interests and have new experiences, like kayaking on Mobile Bay, traveling to inner cities across the U.S. for missions, or working on an in-depth study project in their field.
The Office of Student Life has designed a robust model of weekend activities that includes everything from athletic games to movie nights, beach days, and service projects. These events not only keep the campus buzzing with activity, but also provide ways for students to build relationships across departments and within the greater community.
“There are tons of events every weekend, and I think that brings us together as a community,” says Demetris Ogburn, senior sports administration major.
Vice President for Student Life Neal Ledbetter and his staff coordinated across campus departments to develop an activity schedule that represents all facets of the student experience.
“We are certainly committed to developing the mind, but we’re also committed to shaping the heart and character of students,” Ledbetter says. “So whether it is through intentional service projects, intramural athletics, or internships, Focus Fridays provide students with a unique opportunity to apply the content and character formation they experience in the classroom.”
Faculty and staff may use this day to spend time with their families, pursue their own volunteer interests, or use that time to provide hands-on learning opportunities and serve alongside students in the community.
Barbara Brousseau, assistant professor of French, hosted students in her home one weekend. Together they made coquilles St. Jacques and le pouding chomeur as part of a French learning experience.
“Focus Fridays have given us space to imagine and create experiential learning opportunities,” Brousseau says. “I love doing these projects with our students.”
Overall, the approach has garnered a positive response from students and faculty.
“We’re very excited about it,” says McCaghren.” “Like any good experiment, we are collecting data at every point, and we will analyze that data and make a determination if it’s something we feel is worth pursuing in the long term.”
Smith has been intent on challenging students to serve in the community, develop relationships, seek internships and future employment.
“It’s very easy for us to close the gate and function as a community inside the safety of the campus.
“It will take time to build relationships, but there are those organizations out there that are seeking partnerships,” Smith says.
“We hope it’s through internships, we hope it’s through relationships, through opportunities to say, ‘what is God calling me to do?’ And so we need to be corporately, as a university, saying “’Let’s go out.’”