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Envisioning general studies for the 21st century

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“Envisioning General Studies For the Twenty-First Century”

Eduardo Obregón Pagán

The Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History

It is a fairly common feature of degree programs throughout the nation to require students to pass a set of General Studies courses in preparation for their program major. The benefit of General Studies is that a broad exposure to topics and methods across the disciplines can help contextualize a student’s specialization in a specific degree program. Sometimes exposure to a variety of courses can help students discover where their true interests lie.

ASU’s General Studies courses are intended to go beyond that, however. More than a collection of hors d’oeuvres to consume (or get out of the way) before the main meal, General Studies courses at ASU are intended to provide students with a set of specific intellectual habits, competencies, and skills necessary to prepare them to pursue their careers or advanced degrees and participate more fully as educated citizens in a constitutional democracy.

The General Studies guidelines that ASU follows are drawn from General Education Policy 2-210, established by the Arizona Board of Regents for all Arizona colleges and universities. Every Arizona university has sought to implement that policy by using a sampling approach—a little of this, and a little of that. And so it has gone for perhaps forty years.

The challenge before us now, however, is to consider whether this is the best that we can offer our students. Can we find more creative ways to help them integrate knowledge as they engage with a variety of disciplines, in a way that also contributes more cohesively with their majors? Through these courses, can we empower our students to become purpose-driven, creative, problem-solving citizens of the nation and world? Especially now, as we grapple with the legacies of inequity, can we inspire our students to engage thoughtfully, perspicaciously, and with resiliency to work towards a fuller realization of our national aspirations and promises?

Under the leadership of Senator Stephen Toth, the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the West campus has been engaged in a pilot program that strives to fundamentally rethink General Studies at ASU. Through a thematic approach that ties different General Studies courses together, the pilot is off to a very promising start in offering a richer educational experience for students.

The University Senate is engaged in developing guidelines for proposal submissions for future faculty-led thematic initiatives. Senator Caroline Harris, as chair of the General Studies Council, is overseeing the process of developing policies for reviewing and evaluating these thematic proposals. Our own aspiration as a University Senate is that through these initiatives, guidelines, and procedures, we can spark faculty-led innovation in fusing knowledge and creatively inspiring our students.

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