Gen-ed program changes underway

by Heidi Massey | Staff Writer

A group of Whitworth faculty members, called the General Education Implementation Task Force, is working on updating the general education program, which has not been changed in over a decade. Their goal is to implement a revised general education program by the fall of 2020.

“The purpose of the Gen-Ed program is to ensure that there are certain aspects of common learning that every graduate will have, no matter what your major is,”said Provost Carol Simon, who believes the first year experience is likely to be strengthened under the new Gen-Ed model.

“I think that the amount of time that students spend thinking about worldview and how their belief system impacts all of the things that they do is being expanded and strengthened,” she said.

Simon has long been an advocate of faculty conversation about curriculum. Early in her time at Whitworth, she invited faculty members to engage in an informal conversation about general education curriculum, which eventually led to the creation of a rationale statement. This statement outlines in writing the university’s values regarding general education, expressing beliefs that students should be exposed to disciplines outside their majors. A task force was then formed to review the current Gen-Ed program and to better align it to the rationale statement.

“This has been a highly participatory process for the faculty,” said Simon, adding that around a third of Whitworth’s faculty was involved in the model building process last year. This process resulted in selecting one general education model to develop further.

“I’m very impressed with the huge amount of work that the people on the task force have done,” said Simon.

Dr. Aaron Putzke, a biology professor and co-chair of the task force, has been heavily involved in revising the Gen-Ed program.

“Even though [being involved with the task force] is a tremendous amount of work, I love thinking about how we can offer the disciplines that we value to students and think about the best way to teach in those areas,” he said.

Putzke said that as a task force the group has taken what Whitworth has established, and does well, and added some exciting areas that don’t currently exist.

“For instance,” he said, “we’re going to have a culture and diversity category that’s going to be more specific about asking students to engage in courses that specifically dive into issues that talk about power and privilege.”

Another potential aspect of the new Gen-Ed program is a community engagement requirement.

“We’re proposing a new community engagement requirement where it takes the concept of community building day but actually says we want all of our students to be engaged in the community in different ways,” said Putzke.

In addition to faculty input, students have also been involved with the process of revising the Gen-Ed program. Through focus groups, an open forum, and representation on the curriculum committee, Whitworth students have been able to voice their thoughts on program modifications.  

Working through general education requirements is an experience that all Whitworth students share. Alyssa Meier, a first-year student at Whitworth, says she hopes to gain useful skills from the Gen-Ed program that will help her in her future workplace.

“I think it’s very important that students receive education outside of their major,” she said.

The new Gen-Ed program will require approximately the same number of credits as the current curriculum, and the three course Core series will remain a part of each student’s education.