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Dr. Peter Eden, President of Landmark College Sits Down with Education Update

Transcribed By Mohammad ibrar

Dr. Pola Rosen (PR): I am here today with the President of Landmark College, Dr. Peter Eden. For 26 years, the college has been ministering to and educating students with learning differences in a very successful way. Can you tell us about the mission of the college and what’s happening there?

Dr. Peter Eden, President of Landmark College (PE): Landmark College is only 26 or 27 years old. It is a fledgling institution. It serves students who learn differently; students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, ADHD, social pragmatics issues as well. We achieve success with our students through very small class sizes, the use of assistive technology in the classroom and Universal Design for Learning Approaches to Pedagogy.

PR: You have a background as a scientist. How do you plan to utilize your background to help the students at Landmark?

PE: My training is in Molecular Biology. I worked in the Biotechnology industry for years before I moved to higher education as a professor, dean, and now, president. I love science and discovery. I have studied some cell biology and a bit about the cellular basis of neurodiversity, but I also know that the science world is broad, and many students want to find a career somewhere under the broad science, technology, engineering, and mathematics umbrella. So, we’ve incorporated two new STEM academic programs. We now have a program in life sciences and a program in computer science/gaming, which is interactive computing technology—think mobile apps and sensor technologies—ubiquitous computing.

PR: Will this help students get a job in the tough job market?

PE: Absolutely! Landmark College is a liberal arts and comprehensive college, but we now have pre-professional programs as well. These in particular, along with our business major, prepare students for emerging industries. Our students are attracted to Landmark College not simply because of these new programs, but because they know that this is the best place to learn how to learn. They know that here, everyone understands them and the challenges they face in learning and life. I now learned through savvy and pragmatic parents and students, they want to know that their studies will lead to a career and to employment.

PR: Not only are you building new programs, but you are also building new buildings?

PE: Yes, we have plans to create a Science and Technology Innovation Center. This important physical and intellectual environment will provide a home, not only for our STEM programs, but also for Landmark College Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT), which conducts research on best practices in higher education for students with a learning disability. We need this environment to better test and empirically determine what works best for students with a learning difference in a learning environment.

PR: How do you teach others around the nation about these special techniques for the students?

PE: We don’t have this innovation center yet. When we do, we are going to hold a greater number of symposia and conferences to bring education leaders onto campus. But LCIRT’s major thrust has always been to move out into the field and provide professional development to educators at all grade levels. So, we offer many workshops and professional development opportunities off-campus as well.

PR: What about high school students who have learning difficulties? Can they come to Landmark and study?

PE: Yes! We have a number of summer programs. The high school program brings in great number of students. I think we had about 150 high school students last summer. These students come in and gain confidence in their skills, and they learn to understand their learning abilities and disabilities. As always, the students are evolving, their learning profiles are evolving, and we have to stay abreast of that.

PR: Are you expanding the disability profiles at Landmark to include Asperger’s syndrome or autism?

PE: We’ve always brought in a certain number of students who you would call “on the spectrum.” These are high-caliber, college-ready students with social pragmatics challenges. We have excellent programs for these students. We don’t categorize these students according to their learning difference; it’s an integrated approach with all of our services, because that’s what life is like.

PR: I am impressed by the one-on-one, personal service that you provide on campus. Can you tell us about that?

PE: The college has a unique advising system. Every student has an advisor that they meet weekly, if not daily, because many of our students struggle with executive functioning issues and time management. The advisor plays a major role in ensuring that the student stays on track. It’s a much more centralized advising model. We also have life coaching that helps students and a very robust counseling department, because the data shows 40 percent – 50 percent of college students have serious anxiety issues, and Landmark is no different. On top of that, our students may not have done as well in traditional learning environments, and the deck is stacked against them, but they’re smart. If they work hard, this is the place where they gain traction, and they start to earn college credits.

PR: What about applied learning or project-based learning?

PE: Experiential learning or applied learning, often manifesting as an internship, is important. Is it important for students at Landmark? Yes, they do well in the classroom, but to measure learning outcomes outside the classroom is also important. We are building into some of our programs and our new B.A. curriculum internship experience or an applied-learning element. Granted it’s small, it’s just one course, but we hope to evolve to a point where our students may be able to spend a semester away on an internship and continue to take Landmark courses by using an e-learning technology platform.

PR: Can you tell us about the study abroad programs?

PE: At Landmark College we need to make sure that our students are global citizens; they need to understand language and culture, and study abroad provides a different learning environment for students, so we do have study abroad. Also, we have a new International Education Office, which we started this year, to serve our international students and to internationalize our campus, because we don’t want to be insular — this is an interdependent world and we want to train our students to go out and help the world.

PR: What were some of the challenges you faced when you came to Landmark College?

PE: It’s a very difficult job. I remember seeing my contract and it essentially says I am working, unless I’m sick or on vacation. I understood that, because I had to be there for these parents and students who are so close to success, and they haven’t always experienced it. So, it is a 24/7 job, and that has been a challenge. I think balancing budgetary issues along with academic, curriculum, and student conduct issues, meaning a certain sense of deportment and civility on campus, because we are training students—we are teaching them for living and learning and that doesn’t end. I found that this is very fulfilling, but an enormous amount of work.

PR: What has been most gratifying this year?

PE: We have a practice at Landmark College where every student at graduation provides a testimonial. When you hear these students telling their story, with their parents in the audience, of how they knew they were smart, but they never were in the right environment that understood their needs, and people questioned whether they would succeed in life. And now, they have a college degree, moving on toward universities and colleges, and you see the parents and grandparents, that’s when I know we are doing something extremely important, and we are one of the few in the world with this mission. I’m just here to try and guide the college. I’m privileged to have this opportunity. But it’s my faculty and staff who are the experts, and we know that our mission is important; we know that there is an epidemic out there of students who learn differently with very few places willing to evolve and serve these students, but we’re on the vanguard. I’m trying to make the right strategic decisions so that we are here for the next hundred years. #



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