February 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 24°F


Core curriculum debuts themes for freshmen

Beginning this year, incoming first-year and transfer students will fulfill general education requirements based on “themes” they choose while registering for their first semester’s courses. This is the first step in implementing the Integrative Core Curriculum, a structure that integrates student learning and living as part of the IC 20/20 strategic plan.

Danette Johnson, assistant provost and director of the core curriculum, said she held meetings open to faculty, staff and students the week before classes began, where she explained and answered questions about the ICC.

Under the ICC, general education courses are categorized into six themes — “Identities;” “Inquiry, Imagination and Innovation;” “Mind, Body, Spirit;” “Power and Justice;” “The Quest for a Sustainable Future;” and “A World of Systems.” The themes are packages of required courses designed to give students a comprehensive education similar to, but distinct from, a major or minor, Johnson said.

“The real goals of a college education are… ‘How do we make students better critical thinkers, better analytical thinkers, better able to pull together what they learn from different disciplines to come up with new solutions and ways of thinking?’” Johnson said.

Johnson said each theme includes courses in the creative arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Students will take four three-credit courses and one four-credit first-year seminar, allowing them to see how each class subject relates to the single issue or challenge at the center of each theme.

Seminars are reserved for freshmen, because the college wants to prepare students for college academic life with small class sizes and discussion-based coursework, Johnson said. Transfer students will take a one-credit seminar designed for those who are familiar with college life but not with Ithaca College.

Academic writing remains a requirement, but Advanced Placement English language and composition or literature credits can now fulfill the course, unlike previous years, Johnson said. Other requirements are detailed on the college’s web page about the ICC.

The college was prompted to revise its general education in 2008 by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, a non-profit higher education accreditation organization.

Carol Henderson, associate provost of accreditation, assessment and curriculum, said the college had already been considering revisions after completing a self-study in 2007.

While working on the ICC, the college also took the suggestion of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, a national association that provides consulting for colleges and universities of all sizes, to revamp the ePortfolio program. First-year students post “artifacts,” or tangible examples of student learning, such as videos or excerpts from course essays, on their online portfolios.

The artifacts will not affect students’ GPAs, but they will be graded according to a pass-fail rubric and are required for students to graduate, Johnson said. Professors will also receive a stipend for grading the artifacts, she said.

Wenmouth Williams, professor of media arts, sciences and studies, and interim chair of the journalism department, said the faculty assessment of artifacts is the only real measure of the ICC’s progress. He also emphasized that the curricular changes of the ICC were largely spearheaded by faculty.

First-year student Nick Azzopardi said he was overwhelmed by the information and the decision to choose a theme before beginning college.

“Choosing a topic was kind of hard, because I just wasn’t really sure which one I would be most interested in,” Azzopardi said.

Johnson said students can meet with their advisers if they want to switch themes, and that the college is willing to work on a case-by-case basis with students.

First-year student Nathiel Tejada is a theater studies major, but she said she does not understand how her theme, “Power and Justice,” relates to her major.

“I really like the idea of the themes, and I really love my theme, but I still don’t understand how I can incorporate the theme into what I am doing,” she said. “I am majoring in theater studies… How can I graduate believing that I fulfilled what the entire power and justice theme is about?”

Bonnie Prunty, director of residential life and assistant dean of the First-Year Experiences, said staff members have explained to students how themes work and how the themes would not limit their residential options.

Along with academic courses, students must attend residential programs as part of their theme requirements. The new theme-based programs replace some of the previous residential programs and give resident assistants a foundation to guide the activities for students.

Junior Alisa Babcock, a residence assistant in the First-Year Residential Experience, said while the idea of themes was innovative, it is a work in progress.

“It’s a little difficult right now because we are still in progress,” she said. “But I am really excited to see the program develop and see how first-year students benefit from it during their time at IC.”

Senior Rachel Gropper, who is also an RA in FYRE, said working in a residence hall with an assigned theme is fulfilling.

“This is the first time Ithaca has ever done anything like this, where they are integrating curriculum with home,” Gropper said. “I never had that tie between my classes and what was expected of me and my personal life … If freshmen get this experience starting out right when they get here, they will bring it with them until they graduate.”


Michael Tkaczevski can be reached at mtkacze1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @Mike_Tka