At their April 27 meeting, Gustavus faculty voted to begin implementation of a new curricular framework, called the Challenge Curriculum.
The new curriculum, developed in accordance with the Gustavus ACTs strategic initiative, seeks to ensure that Gustavus provides a cutting edge liberal arts education designed to maximise the potential of students to succeed as thinkers, leaders and innovators in a 21st century world.
The process of revising the curriculum began more than two and half years ago with a faculty retreat on the topic “Curricular Innovation,” which was held Sept. 3, 2015.
At that retreat, faculty were asked to reflect on what works well in the current general education curriculum, what ought to be changed, and what an ideal general education curriculum would look like to them.
Since then, feedback has been sought by the 12 member curriculum committee, composed of one faculty member each from the education, fine arts, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, and social science divisions, as well as four at-large faculty members, and three student representatives.
Curriculum Committee Co-chair Tom LoFaro, who also serves as Clifford M. Swanson Professor of Mathematics and current Co-Chair of the Math, Computer Science, and Statistics department, praised the work of the student representatives on the committee, Seniors Shailagh Lannon, Jack Schugel and Chris Captain, for their work they did to ensure that the new curriculum remains student friendly and student focused.
“It was really helpful to have a student perspective keep us balanced in what we were thinking about,” Lo Faro said.
“They asked lots of questions about how things would work, and contributed ideas.”
The curricular framework proposal that was approved was based off the “Curricular Guiding Principles” approved by the faculty in April 2016 and the “General Education Student Learning Outcomes” approved in May 2017.
The curriculum committee also made an effort to search out the most innovative ideas and strategies implemented by other colleges and integrate them into their proposal.
The result of this process was the “Original Challenge Curriculum” blueprint which the committee presented last September.
After receiving feedback from staff, faculty, and students over the course of this academic year a revised version of the Challenge Curriculum was presented by the committee.
Now that a more formal curricular framework has been approved, smaller groups of faculty will work to hammer out the details for course requirements for each department, and the new curriculum will be implemented following the conclusion of that process,most likely within a year or two.
“It’s not going to affect students on campus right now,” LoFaro said.
“It will only affect students who come into Gustavus the year that it’s adopted.”
While it is not formally a component of the Strategic ACTs plan, the curriculum redesign has developed alongside the Strategic ACTs initiative and has been informed by its aspirations.
In order to help fulfill the stated goal of increased diversity and cultural awareness that comprises the first pillar of the Strategic ACTs plan, the new curriculum will include a global citizenship requirement composed of two foreign language classes, one class on global affairs and cultures, and one class on U.S. identities and difference.
“I think [this change] helps students to understand why we want them to study [a] foreign language,” committee co-chair Jill Locke, Professor of Political Science and current Director of the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies program, said.
In the new curriculum, the language requirement will act toward the education of a global citizenship, whereas now it’s just a tacked on graduation requirement.
Under the new curricular framework, students will also be required to take a general education capstone class during either their junior or senior year, similar to the current first-term seminar requirement, as a course to be taken by all students regardless of major.
As with current J-Term and FTS programming, a wide variety of course options will be made available to students from all fields of study.
All Challenge Capstone courses will be expected to fit into one of three broad categories: Health and Happiness, the Earth and Its Environment, or Justice and Equality.
The goal of the Challenge Capstone courses will be to tackle some question or idea of enduring importance, and courses will include interaction with the world outside of Gustavus in some form.
“I think the most innovative thing that we’ve done (in the new curriculum),” Locke said.
“It’ll give students something they can use as they go on and apply for fellowships, grad schools, or jobs.”
In its statement presenting the revised proposal, the Committee highlighted the potential of the new curricular framework to ensure that all Gustavus students receive the kind of robust and modern liberal arts education they will need to succeed outside of Gustavus.
“In the 21st century, students will confront new questions and challenges,” said the committee.
“Our general education program introduces them to some of the ideas and perspectives as well as the skills, abilities, and habits of mind they will need to address those questions and challenges. It will provide them with opportunities to use their liberal arts education to engage authentic problems. And, we hope, it will encourage them to become active citizens who work for the common good by forging connections among people, place, and different forms of knowledge.”