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Teaching Vanderbilt Undergraduates

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Teaching Vanderbilt undergraduates presents different opportunities and challenges from teaching undergraduates at other colleges and universities and from teaching graduate and professional students at Vanderbilt.

This page is designed for instructors who are new to teaching Vanderbilt undergraduates. It is intended to provide an introduction to Vanderbilt undergraduates, as well as relevant academic policies and procedures.

While the information in this guide can be useful in helping you understand Vanderbilt undergraduates, keep in mind that each student is unique. You are encouraged to get to know your particular students as learners. The Center for Teaching’s “Office Hours,” “Classroom Assessment Techniques,” and “Gathering Feedback from Students” teaching guides offer ways of doing so.



The following four Vanderbilt schools offer undergraduate degree programs.


Fall 2010 Enrollment*

College of Arts and Science 4,285
School of Engineering 1,298
Peabody College of Education and Human Development 1,058
Blair School of Music 211
Total Undergraduates Enrolled 6,879

*Individual Schools’ Total Fall 2010 Enrollment may include graduate students

Of all enrolled undergraduates, spring 2011:

  • 54% are female, 46% are male
  • 63.7% identified themselves as White/Caucasian, 8.0% as African American, 7.0% as Asian/Pacific Islander, 7.4% as Hispanic, 0.4% as American Indian, 3.4% as two or more races, and 5.4% as other or unknown.
  • Almost 5% of the undergraduate students are international
  • 89% of undergraduates live on campus
  • 61% of undergraduates receive some sort of financial aid

Undergraduate Admissions and Retention, as of Spring 2011:

  • Of the 21,811 students who applied to Vanderbilt, only 18% of them were accepted, and 1,600 students enrolled as new freshmen.  The SAT middle 50-percentile range is 1360-1530.
  • The six-year graduation rate (of undergraduates who entered Fall 2004) is 90.6%

Sources:  Vanderbilt Institutional Research Group’s Factbook and ReVU:  Quick Facts about Vanderbilt.

Housing and Residential Education

Most undergraduates live in on-campus housing in a variety of residence halls spread across the campus, each of which is managed by an area coordinator and resident assistants.  There is a strong faculty presence in the students living environments, as many faculty members live on campus as Faculty-in-Residence or serve as Faculty Advisors for groups or activities.

A few of the residential areas feature Living Learning Communities where students with similar educational interests – including philosophy and the fine arts, foreign languages and cultures, and community service and leadership –  live together and participate in structured programs.

The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons – The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons is a residential living learning community for all first-year students located on the Peabody Campus.  Entering students live together in one of ten houses, each led by a Faculty Head of House which serves as the mentor for the students to help set expectations, norms and community for their first year.  Students feel a sense of pride and loyalty to their Ingram Commons House and participate regularly in the seminars, lectures, social events, community service, and conversations fostered by the Ingram Commons.  “The Commons” describes both the first-year student experience and the physical Commons Center building, which serves as the central hub of the Commons experience.  It includes a state-of-the-art dining facility, a convenience store and coffee shop, living and meeting areas for students, a post office, and the freshman advising center CASPAR.

Connected to The Commons is Vanderbilt Visions, a one-semester, university-core program that mentors first-year undergraduates as they confront the social, academic, cognitive, and cultural transitions of leaving high school and entering the complex environment of a private research university. Over 90 faculty members are involved in the Vanderbilt Visions project as Faculty VUceptors.

College Halls – In 2000, Vanderbilt began an initiative with the Martha Rivers Ingram Commons to move towards a residential college system that provides living-learning experiences for all students.  Beginning May 2012, the university will break ground on the next phase of this plan, with the Kissam College Halls.  The six current Kissam residence halls will be demolished in order to build this new residence area.


Extracurricular Life

The typical Vanderbilt undergraduate is involved in several extracurricular activities, many of which are listed below. Undergraduates, particularly freshmen, can sometimes find it difficult to balance their academic responsibilities and the extracurricular activities. They also sometimes overextend themselves in these areas. Bear these facts in mind when discussing course activities with your students.


Rhythms of the Semester

Academic Calendars Since classes in various schools and programs begin and end on different dates, instructors should check the Office of the University Registrar’s Academic Calendar carefully as they plan their courses. Keep in mind holidays such as Fall Break, Thanksgiving Break, Winter Break, and Spring Break. Some schools have restrictions on the kinds of assignments that can be made during the final week of classes. Consult your school’s academic regulations for more information.

Student Activities Since events outside the classroom can have an impact on teaching and learning, it can be useful to be familiar with the student activities calendar when scheduling course-related activities. For a listing of these and other upcoming events, consult the University Calendar. The following are some events that involve many Vanderbilt undergraduates:

Religious Holidays It is Vanderbilt policy to “make every reasonable effort to allow members of the University community to observe their religious holy days without academic penalty.” This means that students may miss classes, examinations or other assignments as a result of a religious observation, but they are not relieved of the responsibility of those assignments. Students should be provided with a “reasonable alternative opportunity to complete such academic responsibilities.” It is also the obligation of students to notify faculty of absences in advance. For more information, consult the Office of Religious Life, read the Vanderbilt’s full policy on religious holy days and practices as well as this list of religious holy days.

Midterms Many undergraduate courses have a single exam in the middle of the semester (a “midterm”). This can make for a large workload for students, who may have three or four exams within the same week. One alternative is to administer less comprehensive, more frequent tests during the semester. This has the additional benefit of providing you and your students with more frequent feedback on their understanding of the course material.

Final Exams If you choose to give a final exam, a date and time for the exam will be assigned to you. See the Registrar’s final exam schedule. Instructors typically have the option of offering an alternate final exam time, but that time is also set by the Registrar. See your school’s academic regulations for more information on final exams and alternate forms of summative assessment.


Academic Regulations

Each of the four undergraduate colleges has its own set of academic regulations addressing a wide range of issues. The regulations that may be most significant for instructors new to teaching undergraduates at Vanderbilt are the following.

  • Add / Drop In most cases, undergraduates have some ability to add or drop courses during the first few weeks of the semester. Because of this, you may find your courses enrollment in a fair amount of flux during this time period. Be prepared to accommodate students who join your course late.
  • Incompletes Undergraduates often have the ability to take an “incomplete” for a course, allowing them to complete one or more exams or assignments after the course has ended. There are rules governing this process, but they vary by school.
  • Pass / Fail Some students might take your class “pass / fail,” meaning that they do not get a letter grade, just a mark of “pass” or “fail.”
  • Midsemester Progress (or Deficiency) Reports You may be required by your school to submit midsemester grades on all of your students or those who are in danger of failing.
  • Grade Reports When and how you turn in final grades, as well as what grades are permissible to give, vary by school. Please note that in some cases, you are required to turn in final grades 48 hours after giving your final exam.
  • Advising You may be asked to advise students about their selection of classes, formally or informally. While requirements for degrees vary by college and program, College of Arts & Science students often refer to Achieving eXcellence in Liberal Education (AXLE), the core curriculum requirements for students in the College of Arts & Science beginning with the Class of 2009.

While there is some overlap across the schools on these regulations, there are enough significant differences that it is far best to consult the particular schools version for information on a given regulation:


Academic, Psychological and Emotional Concerns

Should you have academic, psychological or emotional concerns about your students, the following campus resources are available to you:

Dean’s Offices The Dean’s Office of each undergraduate school advises and supports students in their academic progress, and may be contacted by instructors with concerns or questions.


Students in Distress Adjusting to the rigors of college life can be difficult for some students.  The Dean of Students has published a guide, Students in Distress:  A Guide for Vanderbilt Faculty and staff that is essential for review.  This guide includes warning signals to look for in students in distress; guidelines for intervention; and the policies and procedures for referring students to campus resources.

Student Athletes The athletics program staff includes academic counselors who would be good contacts for faculty whose student-athletes are having difficulties. See also the Center’s “Student Athletes” teaching guide for more information.

Residential Directors Since Vanderbilt is a residential campus, the residence hall staff have close contact with almost all Vanderbilt students and serve as an excellent first contact for students well-being. Each residential area’s Associate Directors and Area Coordinators may be contacted with concerns about students’ academic or social and psychological well-being.

Other Resources Please refer to the Center’s Getting Started Teaching at Vanderbilt for additional centers offering academic, emotional and psychological support for undergraduates, including the University Counseling Center (UCC), the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, The Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Life and the Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services.


More Information

The Center for Teaching’s Library has a large collection of articles, books and videos related to all aspects of teaching undergraduates (including syllabus design, assignments and exams, etc.). Below are a few of these resources that may be particularly useful in understanding Vanderbilt undergraduates. All are available for check-out. See each books ACORN record, listed below, for call numbers and availability.

  • Levine, Arthur. When Hope and Fear Collide: A Portrait of Today’s College Student(1998). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. [ACORN] This volume explores the conflicting forces of fear and hope at play in today’s generation of college students, probing the causes behind these forces, as well as strategies for those who interact with students to enable them to create a meaningful experience for themselves in college.
  • Light, Richard. Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds (2001). Cambridge: Harvard University. [ACORN] Light has spent more than a decade interviewing hundreds of college students on what most helps their learning. This volume is a compendium of many of his findings, and includes sections on mentoring and advising, connecting in-class and out-of-class experiences, demanding high standards in writing assignments, and learning from diversity on campus.
  • Perry, William. Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme (1999). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. [ACORN] Originally published in 1970, this study has formed the foundation for major research in student development that has followed it. Perry’s nine-stage model shows students moving from more simplistic to more cognitively complex world views as they move through various educational experiences. His research underscores the need for instructors to pay attention to process, and not just content.


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