Finding the Right Academic Balance: Is it Books or Meetings?

By Abby Zofchak

As we have all heard time and time again, Denison aims to create “autonomous thinkers and discerning moral agents” through the “interdisciplinary integration of many forms of knowledge.” Ultimately, Denison wants to prepare students to become conscientious leaders who put knowledge into motion for the betterment of their communities after they graduate. As a result, Denison has worked to become a space ripe for experimentation and growth. This small close-knit community provides Denisonians with a robust campus life experience both in and out of the classroom. Given the wide array of opportunities on campus, students can get involved, engage with one another, and practice what they have been exposed to in the classroom.

However, are we losing sight of the importance of the classroom experience as we shift more towards organizational involvement on campus? It seems like students are always complaining about how many things they are involved in, how little sleep they get, and how they have no time to get their schoolwork done. If this is the case, then students might not be getting the most out of their time here on the hill. Co-curricular experiences lose their integrative value if students cannot sustain a certain degree of depth and breadth in their academic experience.

The academic success of students often depends on the amount of preparation before class – doing the reading, reviewing notes, and coming to class with an idea of what will be discussed. In the fall of 2015, nearly 600 students were asked, “Thinking of the typical course you take, how much of the reading/course work do you do?” Responses were given in percent – the average was 79%.  I then assessed the impact of organizational involvement, among other factors, on the percent of class prep completed with a regression model. Figure 1 shows us that campus involvement has an insignificant impact on how much work students are putting in before class. Moreover, students involved in 5 groups prepare for class more than students who spend 5-10 hours a week on athletics. This finding indicates that we might want to rethink how we define “over involvement” at Denison. While we tend to focus on the number of organizations a student is involved in, it really is about the amount of time he or she is putting into each group.


While students often blame their inability to get schoolwork done on their co-curricular commitments, it might have to do more with the student’s personality. I found a significant relationship between how conscientious a student is and how much work they are putting into class (see Figure 1), meaning students who are more self-disciplined and dependable tend to get more schoolwork done. Additionally, Figure 2 shows that the more conscientious a student is, the more involved he or she is on campus (see note 1). However, the average difference in involvement between low and high conscientious students is only one group. This could mean that conscientious students are getting involved in amounts that do not prevent them from getting their school work done too.


The downside of this finding suggests a more pernicious concern about a Denison education since this personality divide tracks the two types of experiences students might have on campus. There are the students who are conscientious and on the upward track towards becoming “discerning moral agents” through their schoolwork and campus involvements, and then there are the students who are less conscientious, less involved, and less academically prepared.

The upside of this analysis is the finding that academics and involvement have a porous relationship and work together in a meaningful way. The experiences students have can inform and motivate experiences in other parts of their lives, building upon one another to create a holistic set of skills and knowledge. In order to fully embrace the liberal arts experience, students must come to understand and value the right balance between their academics and co-curricular involvement.

Abby Zofchak is an a capella singer who decided to take a break from swaying on stage so she could use her political science skills to better understand the mysterious “Denison bubble.”


1. A regression model confirmed the statistical significance of the relationship between level of conscientiousness and involvement (p<.05), meaning the more conscientious a student is the more involved on campus he or she is.

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