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Teagle Foundation Awards $65,000 Grant to Bolster Ursinus’s Core Curriculum

Grant funds will be used from July 2021 through June 2023 for the creation of additional classes and a conference on liberal education.

The project, titled “Strengthening the Core,” was proposed by a team of faculty led by Professor of Education and Assistant Dean of the College Stephanie Mackler and Professor of Politics Paul Stern for a grant program aimed to revitalize the role of the humanities in general education.

Taught from a common syllabus by upwards of 35 instructors from every discipline, the Common Intellectual Experience (CIE), which was introduced on campus more than 20 years ago, is the foundation of Ursinus’s intellectual community. Using transformative texts as the launching point for discussions, the signature course for first-year students is oriented around four questions: What should matter to me? How should we live together? How can we understand the world? and What will I do?

For many students, CIE is their first experience grappling with the central questions of the humanities. What the college found, said Mackler, is that students wanted more. “Since CIE’s inception, students have expressed the desire to reconsider texts and issues first discussed in CIE.”

Ursinus Quest, the college’s recently revised core curriculum, aims to spur students to complete the education begun in CIE. It seeks not only to extend students’ investigations of the core questions through their entire four years at Ursinus, but also link them with their lives as professionals, citizens, and human beings.

This is accomplished through linked inquiry courses (for sophomores and juniors) and core capstones (for seniors). The latest Teagle grant supports the development of these courses.

In linked inquiry courses, students study a common topic from the standpoint of diverse disciplines. The format for these courses does not require team-teaching, but rather involves two faculty members from two different disciplines teaching two sections of a course that deals with a common theme. The commonality is reinforced in several ways, starting with the two sections reading a shared transformative text.

Two examples of these courses might be a biology professor and an ethicist teaching a course on the ethical implications of the biotechnological revolution; or a business professor and a professor of political philosophy teaching a course on the mechanism and morality of the market.

The core capstone was developed with the intention of giving particular attention to the question, What will I do? Students take this course near the end of their college career, and reflect on their liberal education and how it has shaped their vocational discernment process. Students are strongly encouraged to make reflections, known as “Bear Tracks,” about their entire college experience, including work done in CIE and other courses, to help connect their future professional goals to the intellectual curiosity that was sparked by thoughtful consideration of the four core questions.

In addition to funding the development of additional courses, the Teagle grant will also support 10 participants in a seminar on liberal education. This cohort will spend 12 to 18 months studying the history and theories of liberal education, and will create and organize a two-day conference on liberal education that will take place in June 2023.

The goals of the Ursinus Seminar in Liberal Education are to better understand our own practices at Ursinus by exploring the history and current debates in theory and practice of liberal education, and also foster discussion both at Ursinus and among faculty at other liberal arts institutions about liberal education.

All participants from this Teagle-funded grant will be invited to attend the conference. In addition, invitations will be extended to two keynote speakers and 10 participants from liberal arts colleges with similar commitments to transformative texts.

“Ursinus already has a really unique core curriculum that asks students to engage meaningfully with life’s biggest questions,” said Mackler. “Our hope is that this grant will enable faculty to strengthen and extend the work they’ve already done to help our core make an even more profound impact on our students. We think this is an opportunity to really distinguish Ursinus as a place that is unusually deliberate and thoughtful about what it means to engage in liberal education.”

Faculty will be invited to information sessions to learn more about the grant and how to apply for it over the summer so that the groups can be up and running by fall 2021.