Getting to the Core

Major changes coming to SU's Core curriculum

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
September 11, 2012
There’s renewed vigor in the pursuit of excellence at Seattle University. And it starts at the very foundation of an SU education with an overhaul of the Core curriculum.
Come next fall, the Core will have a markedly different look and feel, the first time major changes have been made to the curriculum in 25 years. This year, students will have an opportunity to get a taste of the new Core with a selection of pilot courses.
The revision of the Core, the sequence of required courses that spans the four years of a typical undergraduate experience here, is long in the making.

Led by Core Director Jeff Philpott, the changes create a curriculum driven by clear learning objectives for students. The new Core is leaner than the old, says Philpott, and guides students to a better understanding of how to reflect on their educational experience. Traditional broad survey or appreciation courses are gone and global engagement acquires more importance. (See accompanying chart comparing the old and the new Core.)

Check out a video of Core Director Jeff Philpott explaining the Core and the coming changes.

“After 25 years (with our current Core), it was clear we were a different university, our students were different, our world was different and the academic disciplines in the Core had evolved,” Philpott says. “This was an opportunity to reshape it from the ground up.”

He traces the decision to revise the Core to recommendations from strategic planning committees back in the 2007–08 academic year. That also was the time President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., called for the creation of “a new Core for the new student of the new world.” By fall 2009, a University Core Revision Committee was formed and began to meet with students, faculty and staff from all the colleges to come up with a proposal.

Questions were asked about what knowledge, skills and values graduating students should have. Then the committee designed a curriculum that aims to deliver those outcomes for students, according to Philpott, with emphasis on the many changes in how students learn today. 

“The key here is that new inquiry seminars will be built around faculty research and their passions. We’re asking students to dive deeply into these important questions alongside their professors,” Philpott says. “The goal is not simply to make students well-rounded. Well-rounded is for doughnuts. We want to help students become more insightful and creative thinkers.” 

Ki Gottberg, fine arts professor and member of the Core revision committee, says in the 25 years she has been at SU, both students and faculty have changed.
“Kids today need to be impassioned. And faculty who aren’t impassioned are not trusting that their disciplines are powerful,” she says. “When they teach from their passions, that’s when they will hook students. And that’s when it gets good.”

The fact that the new Core is based on outcomes and remains true to SU’s Jesuit, Catholic liberal arts tradition pleases Provost Isiaah Crawford. 

“We are also very excited about the global engagement component to the Core and the intercultural aspect of it,” he says. “Our students will have the exposure to the global world in which they live, which we think will enhance their ability to be competitive and thoughtful and knowledgeable world citizens.” 

Getting to the Core  
Here’s a look at how the Core once was and where it is now.
Old Core
*71–75 credits (15 courses)
*Strong focus on Jesuit traditions of theology and philosophy
*Many broad, traditional survey courses
*Generic course titles in literature, philosophy and modern history, for example
*Limited exposure to research opportunities
*Faculty with divided academic lives: survey courses may not reflect faculty passions or research
*No systematic use of Core courses for global engagement; limited options for education abroad
*Limited opportunities for student reflection
*Curriculum that doesn’t systematically address university learning goals

New Core
*63 credits (13 courses, including 3 credits in major)
*Strong focus on Jesuit traditions of theology and philosophy
*Inquiry seminars tightly focused on important and interesting questions in the discipline, ideally reflecting the faculty members’ research ¬ interests
*Course titles that reflect a specialized focus; examples include Creative Writing Across Cultures, The Book of Job and the Question of Suffering, Economic Booms and Busts–An investigation of Policy Alternatives and History of Financial Crises: Implications for the Future
*Exposure to undergraduate research opportunities beginning with first-year students
*Faculty who bring their cutting-edge scholarship to the classroom, building courses around their research interests
*Fifteen credits, or an entire quarter, devoted to applying knowledge and skills for global citizenship with opportunity for education abroad
*Greater reflection on learning and values
*Careful articulation of how courses and objectives work together; regular assessment on a continuing basis to improve student learning

Learn more about the Core here.

The Core curriculum changes launch fully next fall, but students this year will get a taste of what's to come as some of the changes will be given a pilot run.