In its 2020 edition of America’s Best Colleges, U.S. News & World Report once again ranked Adrian College as a top regional college in the Midwest.

Four of the seven awards presented to Adrian College were first-time honors, including “A Focus on Student Success — First-Year Experience.” Adrian College is ranked 14th in the country in this category. The award is for building into the curriculum first-year seminars or other academic programs that bring small groups of students together with faculty or staff on a regular basis.

U.S. News & World Report noted, “Orientation can only go so far in making freshmen feel connected.”

Approximately six years ago, former Adrian College Dean Agnes Caldwell and several faculty members recognized that the first-year experience of Adrian College students could be enhanced if the institution provided them a more in-depth understanding of its origins and values. The group created a pilot program, wrote a successful grant application and established the Adrian College Core Department.

One year later, Dr. Andrew Winckles was hired as one of the first assistant professors selected to teach the program. He is currently the department chair.

“They had a vision of having an integrated first-year experience, a two-semester experience, for our students coming in, that would introduce them to Adrian College — to our history, our mission, to what it means to be part of a small liberal arts institution,” Winckles said. “And also prepare them for college with some basic skills in writing, reading, critical thinking, and public speaking.”

The vast majority of incoming students are required to take the Core curriculum.

The program has been updated over the years. CORE 101 now focuses on foundational skills in writing and research, while CORE 102 focuses on public speaking and research, allowing students to “find their voice” by discussing topics that are important to them. In accordance with Adrian College’s mission to “contribute to a more socially just society,” Core encourages students to engage with social justice issues, inspires them to care for humanity and the world, and creates a foundation for a lifetime of learning and inquiry.

Winckles described CORE 101 as being about personal identity. The course is designed to have students look at who they are, the major experiences that influenced them, and how that all fits into what they are doing at Adrian College.

In CORE 102, things are flipped around.

“We then turn it outward and say, ‘Who am I in the context of others… and what is my responsibility to the world?’” Winckles said. “We are very clear. We think they do have a responsibility to the world. We all do.”

The second semester class investigates a variety of contemporary social issues from a number of different perspectives. Winckles said that is one of the great things about being at a college with a liberal arts tradition.

“We bring in lots of different discourses to have those conversations, and the students give speeches on those issues and it culminates in a project where they have to identify a social problem, research it and try to articulate what some potential solutions are,” Winckles said.

Kate Lisak, a second-year Adrian College student from Superior Wis. thought Core’s classes were stimulating and gave her a sense of being connected. She especially enjoyed being taught by Winckles.

“We just really trusted him, immediately,” Lisak said. “The way he taught class didn’t feel like we were doing work or tedious projects. It was a first year of self-discovery.”

She went on to say that most of the students coming in don’t know who they really are, and Core helps them figure it out.

“It opened up a lot of different stories,” she said. “Whether it was a really good teacher they had or deep stuff, like people who had been sexually abused or gone through a terrible divorce.”

Lisak said the Core classes bring students together because they have to trust one another enough to open up about their own personal issues.

“The work that you’re doing is based on your story,” Lisak said. “I met my best friends in the class, because you do have to be vulnerable and trust each other. It was a learning experience, but you don’t process it as learning. It’s more of a self-development. I liked it a lot.”

Adrian College was also ranked fourth in the nation by top college administrators in the “Best Regional Colleges for Undergraduate Teaching” category, also a first-time honor for the Bulldogs.

Now that Lisak is in her second year in Adrian College’s Pre-Architecture program, some of what she learned in Core is helping her keep her grades up. She has high expectations and is very glad she selected a challenging college that pushes students to become the very best they can be.

“I’ve always been an overachiever,” Lisak said. “Things have to be done to ‘A’ perfection. So, if I’m not getting A’s in class, it really stresses me out. But, I’ve been able to keep it up. I think Core really helps you.”