The University of Wisconsin– Stevens Point Academic Affairs, as well as many student organizations, are currently finalizing plans for a new General Education Program to broaden the education experience for faculty and students. The program will be implemented in the fall of 2013.
Dr. James Sage, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor of Teaching, Learning, and Academic Programs, explained that the university began a study between 2006 and 2008 which looked at the General Degree Requirements that students needed to fulfill in order to obtain their bachelor’s degree.
"As a result of several reports, we learned that UWSP’s General Degree Requirements (GDRs) were credit-intensive and not well understood by faculty or students. To many people, our GDRs were not much more than lists of classes without much focus or intentionality. Also, each degree type (Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Music) had its own distinct set of requirements, adding to the confusion," Sage said.
The new program will only require students to take 40-49 credits, which are split into four categories of study. Categories include integration, investigation, foundation, and cultural/environmental awareness.
The existing requirements would be applied in each category. Each category is made up of several sub-categories for which certain classes would be taken. For example, the investigation category would include courses in the sciences, humanities, and arts. Cultural and Environmental Awareness would group together the current requirements for minority studies, non-western culture, and environmental literacy.
"Technically, the new General Education Program will require fewer credits than our old GDRs. While students will still be required to complete at least 120 credits to graduate, we hope that requiring fewer credits in the General Education Program will allow more students to graduate in four years," Sage said.
The program is also adding three extra requirements, which, when implemented, will be adapted to every major in every department on campus: a First Year Seminar, a Communication class within the major, and a capstone experience within the major.
Dr. Sage explained that Communication classes and capstone experiences are an important aspect of a liberal education and a vital component to the new General Education Program. Department heads are developing a new program to meet these requirements. For example, writing emphasis credits will now be more centered around a student’s major, the idea being that they will learn to better communicate their thoughts within their field of study. Similarly, every major will also have a "culminating experience" for the student, which means that the student will be required to complete a project, research, seminar, or an internship to gain experience in their professional field.
A First Year Seminar experience will also be part of the new program requirements. The seminar is a three-credit course that is created by faculty members from various departments on campus. It is intended to introduce first-year students to college life and serve as a resource to the campus. Current courses offered cover topics like "The Lord of the Rings," The Beatles, soccer, and architecture. Dr. Christine Gould of the School of Education is currently teaching one of the courses.
"There is a significant focus on critical thinking skills in a First Year Seminar. I feel this is highly valuable training for university students and helps orient a new freshman to university study," Gould said.
The General Education Program promotes the idea that "a liberal education is essential to living in today’s global society." The new GDRs will encourage students to step out of their comfort zone and explore the connections between all fields of study.
"I am excited that this will change the way that faculty and students look at education. Hopefully, they will no longer look at it as a set of hoops they have to jump through, but as a rewarding experience that provides them with the tools to emerge in the world and to apply their skills overall," Sage said.