NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – After more than a year of work by representatives of Bethel College’s faculty and administration, the faculty on Oct. 24 voted its initial approval to a revision of the college’s General Education (GE) requirements.
The most significant changes have to do with the addition of two core courses, which does not, however, increase the number of required GE hours.
Core courses will still include College Issues Colloquy in the first freshman semester, Convocation for eight semesters and Basic Issues of Faith and Life in the senior year. Added to these are a Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies (PJC) course and a Collaborative Inquiry Seminar.
“Once this curriculum is implemented, every Bethel graduate will have a significant Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies component to his or her education,” said assistant professor of history Penelope Adams Moon, a member of the GE Review Committee. “This continues a long-standing institutional interest in this discipline.”
To meet the PJC requirement, students will choose from approved courses that can be found across the major programs. Approved courses must do at least two of the following: explore faith traditions, theological foundations or value orientations that support a PJC perspective; analyze social or natural systems from a PJC perspective; focus on practical skills for peacemaking, communication and/or conflict mediation; study an issue or problem of PJC from a particular discipline’s perspective.
The Collaborative Inquiry Seminar “builds on Bethel’s institutional emphasis on undergraduate research,” said interim academic dean Brad Born. Approved courses will emphasize inquiry-based, collaborative learning in order to develop students’ ability to gather, interpret and evaluate information from a variety of sources, formulate and apply a research methodology and communicate findings effectively and professionally. As the title indicates, having students work in “an inquiry-based learning community” to complete course requirements will be an important component.
The addition of these two pieces of the GE curriculum does not increase the total number of hours required because courses approved to meet the criteria can also fulfill “distribution requirements” for GE in the area in which the course is offered (e.g., biological science, social sciences, fine arts or religious studies) or meet a major requirement.
Once the GE revisions have received their final approval, they are scheduled to take effect with the incoming freshmen and transfer students of fall 2008.
Bethel College’s GE curriculum is designed to develop three sets of “foundational capacities” in students: basic academic skills (including communication, mathematics and computer competencies); understandings of academic disciplines and cross-cultural issues; and integrative abilities, including critical thinking and the ability to relate faith and learning.
The work of the GE Review Committee has also included soliciting feedback from the Alumni Council and Young Alumni Council, helping the Student Senate coordinate and present convocations in fall 2005 and spring 2006 that invited student input on GE proposals, and facilitating articles about the review process in The Collegian, the college newspaper.
“Our work to improve our GE curriculum has been a clear, concise attempt to connect what happens in a college education with some kind of long-term, broad experience,” said Born.
“We’ve long needed to be able to articulate more quickly and easily why a GE curriculum is relevant to life and work beyond the classroom,” Moon added. “It’s not just a hoop to jump through to get to a major.”
In addition to Born and Moon, members of the GE Review Committee include William Eash, professor of music, Jon Piper, professor of biology, Ada Schmidt-Tieszen, professor of social work, John Sheriff, professor of English and executive vice president for institutional development (interim president for most of the GE review process), Patricia Shelly, professor of Bible and religion, and Richard Zerger, professor of chemistry.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.