5 Questions with James Caccamo, Ph.D.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

After 15 years as a teacher and scholar and five as chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, James Caccamo, Ph.D., is adding a new role to his service at Saint Joseph’s: associate dean for students and experiential learning in the College of Arts and Sciences. Caccamo has been involved in a variety of University initiatives and service activities. He has served on the advisory board of the CAS Advising Support Center, has also regularly taught service-learning courses and co-developed an experiential learning approach to theology courses within the core curriculum.

The SJU News team asked Caccamo about his new role and his goals for the future. 

Describe your new role.

One primary area is being the College’s point person on student-related academic tasks and committees. This includes reviewing various student educational requests. For example, if a student wants to do an independent study opportunity, take a sixth class, take a leave of absence or submit a Satisfactory Academic Progress plan to meet financial aid requirements — I represent the college in that process.

Another part of the role involves collaborating with the registrar, IT and others to increase automation of academic processes. For instance, there are different ways for students to bring credits in to the University — when transferring to SJU, from study abroad programs, a summer course elsewhere or a college course in high school. Right now, that’s a lot of manual work. I will help with efforts to streamline the processes.

I will also coordinate efforts to enhance and support experiential learning opportunities for students in the College. Specifically, we want to help departments increase internship opportunities and develop a co-op program within the College of Arts and Sciences.

How have your prior experiences at Saint Joseph’s prepare you for this new role?

Before grad school, I was a computer programmer. I’m an operations-oriented thinker. If I see an issue, I want to find out why it’s happening and what can be done to address those problems. I brought that to SJU as chair, working with the registrar and the provost’s office to improve course, catalog and student evaluation systems. In my new role, I’ll continue that. 

As a faculty member, I’ve had a good deal of experience with experiential learning, primarily teaching service-learning courses. Seeing the impact of that on students makes me passionate about growing our other experiential learning opportunities.

How do you envision strengthening the experiential learning opportunities in the College of Arts and Sciences? 

We have awesome faculty and we offer a lot of really wonderful experiential learning programs at SJU, like service-learning, Summer Scholars and study abroad. There are also a number of departments in the College that have really excellent internship programs that are thriving and students are using a great deal. We want to learn from these programs to help other departments expand their internship offerings. How can we draw upon our faculty expertise and our connections in Philadelphia in order to enhance the student experience?

Another key area of growth is creating a co-op program within CAS. Co-op opportunities are prevalent in the Haub School of Business and in our region, and prospective students ask if we have them in CAS. Dean Menon is interested in building a co-op program to meet those needs and my role is to work with faculty to develop that initiative. 

How do students benefit from these experiential learning opportunities? 

Experiential learning offers students opportunities to understand the world in a new way. They also provide great experience for the résumé.

Importantly, though, experiential learning experiences give students new opportunities to test out their interests, helping them discern their vocation during their time at St. Joe’s. For some, it might confirm a path. For others, it might open a door to a new realization, passion or career. Getting outside the classroom adds a new piece to the process of finding your place in the world.

Students who engage in experiential opportunities learn a lot in the field. But they also bring that experience back to the classroom. They make connections between their experiences and their coursework, shedding new light on the things they are reading and discussing, and those connections help their fellow students see in new ways, as well. It enhances their own learning experiences as well as the experience of other students in the class. It’s not a monologue; it’s a dialogue. 

Why is this work so important to you?

I really think that all of us at the University are responsible for the whole community: the success of our students and the care of the institution. I see this new role as an extension of that service to the community. It’s something I enjoy and I look forward to doing.

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