When Western Oregon University sophomore Maya Schlosser-Hall started college in 2018, she was on track to take four math classes to graduate as an education major.
“Math is not my strong suit,” she said. “I was worried about taking four math classes because I was worried I wasn’t going to succeed in them and that was going to set me back, and I wouldn’t graduate on time.”
Schlosser-Hall was relieved when she learned WOU had revamped its general education requirements beginning fall 2019.
“The new requirements mean I can take more classes I’m interested in that will help me with my goal to be an English teacher,” she said. “I also think the new general education requirements are super helpful to give me a width and depth of knowledge. I will have a depth of knowledge in English and a width of knowledge in subjects like math, science and the other basics.”
Director of the General Education Program and biology professor Erin Baumgartner said WOU’s new general education requirements were designed for students to acquire the knowledge and fundamental skills for lifelong learning.
“Our goal is to prepare students for more than getting a job after college. We also want to prepare them to be engaged citizens and have meaningful lives and be lifelong learners,” she said.
The revised General Education Program’s framework differs from the former Liberal Arts Core Curriculum (LACC) in several ways.
Baumgartner said that historically the general education framework was focused on disciplinary knowledge where students often had to take courses in a sequence within a department. Students would select classes to complete a number sequence.
“Students were taking classes to check off boxes to meet the LACCrequirements rather than taking classes to explore their interests,” she said. “Students were also taking classes in silos without connecting what they were learning.”
Baumgartner said the new program makes it easier for students to explore while also meeting their general education learning requirements.
The general education learning outcomes for students are to demonstrate critical thinking skills; understand the privileges and challenges of being a responsible citizen; display multidisciplinary learning skills such as using strategies to answer questions and solve problems; and acquire intellectual foundations and breadth of exposure.
During a two-year collaborative process, the WOU faculty redesigned the General Education Program to build classes around skills students will need in the workforce and in life. They also added first-year seminars.
Successful citizens, employees
Baumgartner said employers are seeking employees who have the knowledge and skills to do their job plus much more.
“Employers want their employees to be able to walk into a room and be able to tackle any problem,” she said. “They want to see their employees know how to work collaboratively with people who may have different backgrounds and perspectives from them, and they have the creativity, skills and knowledge to solve problems and get results.”
WOU sophomore Paris Vanderburg is majoring in criminal justice with the goal of working in youth corrections. She said she likes how the new general education requirements challenge her creativity and teach her to think critically.
“I like the classes that make me think on the fly because I want to work in law enforcement,” she said. “I also like taking writing intensive classes because I think it’s important everyone knows how to write and do it. The classes I am taking for my general education requirements will help me with my major.”
First-year seminars are designed to assist freshmen to ease into the college experience while exploring non-traditional and exciting topics. The classes are meant to be an opportunity to practice foundational skills such as reading, information literacy, creative and critical thinking, and technological literacy in a small-class setting.
“Going to college for most students involves a big jump in expectations and taking responsibility for one’s own life and education,” Western Oregon University geography and sustainability professor and First-Year Seminar Coordinator Shaun Huston said. “That transition can be challenging, and the first-year seminar is designed to help and support students in making this change.”
Examples of first-year seminars are How We Make Choices, America’s National Parks and Monuments, What’s the Worst that Could Happen, Introduction to Comedy Writing and Feeding Ourselves.
Huston visited with students and asked them their thoughts about the seminars. Students told him that they were more comfortable asking their instructor basic questions about college that they would be hesitant to ask in other classes.
“Students also seemed to appreciate having another opportunity to connect with peers at their same stage of college,” Huston said. “We will have to see what happens next, but we already know, generally, that making connections and feeling supported are instrumental to students (finishing) college.”
Baumgartner said the seminars are key to welcoming students to the Western community. She team-taught How to Survive a Mass Extinction with Earth and physical science professor Jeff Myers.
“Besides teaching the class content, I helped students with questions from little to big stuff,” she said. “I think the seminars help students make new friends, and they get to see their professor as a person who is there to help them if they need it.”
Passport to life
Baumgartner said the overall goal of the university is to create lifelong learners who can contribute positively in their careers, homes and communities.
“I see the new general education requirements like a passport for students to explore their interests,” she said. “Many students either arrive at WOU knowing what they want to major in or ready to explore from the variety of majors available. The general education requirements provide all students with the amazing opportunity to explore the world of classes we have.”