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What Students Say about Core

The relative success of a particular curriculum is a combination of both student and teaching faculty's perception of the program as it evolves, society's perception of the students who are a product of it, and the achievement, by some measures, of the students it produces. This introduction to the Robert E. Cook Honors College curriculum attempts to supplement a listing and discussion of curriculum components with some of these.

During Spring Break of my freshman year, when I talked to high school friends who had gone to other schools about what they were doing, they would say 'Oh, I'm taking this course.'

Then I told them that in March we were examining 'How do humans understand the sacred?' from the perspective of literature, history, philosophy and the fine arts, and that I've just finished my fourth major critical paper; their jaws hit the table.

They were in awe. They just go to class and come back. They aren't tackling these things.

It's interesting the way all the sections attack the questions from different angles and the way we all get together at the end to learn how everyone looked at them. Even during the middle of the unit we get into discussions in the hallways and in our rooms- 'How are you guys looking at the question? What are you learning?' Though you are in one disciplinary unit, it's as if you are in all of them at the same time. The synthesis is really valuable.

I'm happy, and feel I'm getting something out of college that my friends aren't. The whole interdisciplinary design of the course around major questions that touch all humans, the focus on thinking and writing, and the kind of interaction with faculty and students I've experienced in the Honors College core course has been a real awakening for me. In order to function in a society, you have to be open-minded and look at all sides of an issue, to realize that not everyone agrees, but you have to go beyond that and recognize which positions are more or less valid, what the best answers are.

—Forrest Lehman

English Major

Class of 2001

I like to interact with the material. I care more about things I have to learn interactively. The design of the course contributes a lot. If a course is designed around problem solving, it's going to be more fun and interesting. My brain is going to grow just by thinking about it. If the design is just information, even if you get into groups once in awhile, there's not much to think about. Just framing the course around a problem or question makes a big difference. You still learn specifics, still master the material, but it comes alive.

—Shauna Doyle

Hearing Impaired and History Major

Class of 2002

There are other courses with interdisciplinary content, but it's the combination of the interdisciplinary approach to questions like 'What is Art?' and the critical discussion-based teaching approach that makes the difference. The organization of the course around questions like 'How do we discern the good from the bad' changes everything. Instead of learning something pre-digested about a single discipline like history, you start to see what history contributes to life's big questions. It's a group of professors and students looking for a synthesis rather than a teacher giving information to offer an answer. You have to have different people giving answers to truly understand, and there are often even more questions when you are done.

That gives me more enlightenment, not less. Without critical thinking it would just be a jumble of feelings, so that's part of the synthesis too-evaluating other arguments. And it doesn't shortchange the single discipline like, for example, history-I've come to see how a historian thinks and even to recognize how that's different from the way philosophers think.

The core course has patterned for me for me how it should happen in real life. With in-depth critical thinking and discussions that push way beyond how people 'feel' into real thinking and analysis, you begin to make connections. It seems abstract, but it's very relevant. The core course was the spark and the initial exercise that trained my mind to be analytical, critical, but also open to other ideas. Now I see connections all the time. I don't have to stretch to bring art into history. And it keeps going after the term is over, even at home.

—Lori Felker

English Major

Fulbright Scholar

Class of 2000

The core class has shown me that the foundation of knowledge that is meant to be built by any liberal studies or general education program cannot be truly accomplished without taking classes that are independent of each other. Like in the human body, where individual cells combine to make organs, and organs interact to make us who we are, the core class creates a system in which all the disciplines interact with each other. This interaction around deep and thought-provoking questions challenges our minds in ways no other class has.

—Eric Boyer

Political Science and Philosophy Major

Class of 2001

Education cannot be approached from a singular point of view. This curriculum has changed me and the way I think. I became a diff e rent thinker. Everything I thought I knew and took for granted now seems shallow without critical analysis to support it.

The purpose of Liberal Studies is to foster well-roundedness in students' education. When I'm writing for the core class, I'm incorporating elements of history, philosophy, fine arts, religious studies and literature. I don't know that I would be able to synthesize all or even some of them into the writings if I were in a typical class independent of other disciplines. I recall John Locke's theory on government, and it helps with analysis of Keats' works. I've used history articles in literature units. We are learning a set of skills and a way of looking at things as connected.

This whole environment just fosters growth. We all want to get our degrees and jobs, and even money, but we also want to become more open people, to develop as citizens and gain a greater appreciation of how it all fits together.

—Beth Baran

Management and English Major

Class of 2000

Until studying here, I thought of education simply as following the dots along a line. After Core, and classes in various disciplines and around the world, I see that education is better characterized as a detailed map that demonstrates the contours of competing ideas, change over time, relations between disciplines, the elevation of ideals, and the bedrock of facts, ethics, and logic. On content alone, Honors Core makes us examine our existing map and make room for new and different knowledge, often at the expense of unacknowledged prejudice or willful ignorance. I testify that the best attribute of the Honors College-an attribute everyone should seek everywhere and always-is that in guiding you by your map, the faculty will have none but your interest in mind.

—Cameron Hollingshead

Political Science Pre-Law Major

Class of 2003

The Core class teaches you the relevance of art. I'm not in an art field and I think that I always thought about art as the icing on the cake, the frivolous stuff that you didn't really have to do. Especially the "what is art?" question and going to fine arts events, made me realize how integral to life it is. Though it may not be part of my daily life, it was and is part of a lot of people's lives. It has so much to say about society, as an agent in society as well. I thought that was really important as an educated person.

—Joanna Stone

Spanish and Anthropology Major

Class of 2003

The Core course fit with what I craved in high school: when I was a prospective student, particularly in my senior year, I was frustrated with an AP English class in which the teacher seemed fascinated with the sound of his own voice, seldom valuing any dissent among students. I often felt the urge to show him the HC curriculum outlines as if to say, 'Look! Some college classes emphasize the teacher's learning as much as that of the students, and everybody wins with that tactic.' I am still thrilled with the dynamic discussions we have in Core and the continuations thereof throughout our days at IUP.

—Kathryn Bransford

English and Spanish Education Major

Class of 2004

This isn't a place for students who need an intellectual safety zone. It's a place for people who relish having their ideas challenged and who have the moral courage to revise beliefs as experience demonstrates their flaws. It's a place for people who always think of the 'but' and the 'what if' and who wonder what experiences and ideas motivate others who may be very different from themselves. The intellectual free spirit inside me had been carefully fed a bland diet in high school; I dialogued with my Newsweeks and novels and with my own head more than I ever did with others. Nothing I'd experienced before was like the first week at the HC. I felt like I'd been led to a buffet of wildly exciting new thoughts coming from some really passionate, diversely-minded people. The wonder of it was the unwritten code that you could casually or vigorously debate or discuss anything at any time, but that judging or insulting the person was utter bad form. Now, I literally feel choked when I'm in an environment with rigid, homogeneous thought.

—Megan Dively

Political Science Major

Class of 2003