Published August 29, 2016
The biggest curriculum overhaul UB has seen in decades is now in place with the start of the fall semester and the launch of UB Curriculum, the university’s revised general education program.
Entering freshmen and transfer students will be the first students to graduate under the program, which aims to enrich students’ educational experience and help prepare them to succeed in today’s world.
UB Curriculum abandons the traditional “checklist” approach to general education in favor of a program that’s “highly customizable” and allows students “to design a path that best suits their interests while also complementing their major,” says Andrew Stott, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.
“It provides a structure through which to explore the curriculum while also delivering a liberal arts education that’s appropriate to the 21st-century,” Stott says. “You only need to look around you to see how desperately we need liberal arts education. If we don’t engage students early and re-emphasize its importance, we’re in danger of losing something vital to the health of our democracy.”
Charles F. Zukoski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, also praises UB Curriculum for its emphasis on liberal arts education. “UB’s dynamic general education program is recognized nationally for providing students with the experiences and liberal arts foundation they need to thrive in our complex and global society,” Zukoski says. “We are confident that the new UB Curriculum will ensure that our students achieve even greater success.”
The effort to revamp gen ed was a massive undertaking, involving hundreds of faculty and staff members. When the call went out to faculty seeking proposals for UB Seminars — discussion-based seminars for freshmen and transfer students built around “big ideas” and designed to encourage critical thinking, ethical reasoning and reflective discussion — 170 faculty members responded with proposals, notes Krista Hanypsiak, director of the UB Curriculum.
Another key component of the program, Pathways, also was formulated by the faculty to reflect their interests and some of the strengths of the university. Pathways courses are interconnected by theme or concept — categories are thematic and global — and cross a wide range of disciplines.
“So we have Pathways that look at things like cities and spaces, business and economy, art and culture, and crime and punishment — the kinds of things that represent some of the strengths of the university,” Stott says.
To assist students and advisers in selecting Pathways courses, the UB Curriculum office, together with the Enterprise Application Services unit of UBIT and the Registrar, created a special software tool called the Path Finder. “It’s a unique platform and way for students to navigate the undergraduate catalogue and for them to select sequences of courses that can form a coherent course of study or line of inquiry,” Stott says.
The software works through the applicability of different rules and the requirements of the different majors “so that the adviser and the student can actually focus on what the student’s interested in, rather than saying ‘you’ve got to take one of these and you’ve got to take one of these.’ Instead, they can ask, ‘where do you want to go and what do you want to do?’” Stott says.
“Students can just explore what looks interesting to them,” Hanypsiak adds.
Stott notes that instead of being a simple list of requirements every student has to fulfill, general education now is a coherent program in its own right with a beginning — the UB Seminar — and an end – the Capstone. The Capstone is a student’s final, culminating project that integrates the entire general education experience in anticipation of next steps in life and learning.
In between are Pathways and Foundations, courses in diversity, writing, math and natural sciences that promote critical thinking, creative problem-solving, enhanced communication skills, cultural competencies and ethical and analytical reasoning.
“With the new curriculum, UB has emerged as a national leader in general education,” Stott says. “The structure of the program, and especially the Path Finder, is unique for institutions of our size, and we will be the benchmark for gen ed innovation for years to come.”
Stott and Hanypsiak praise the “monumental work” of faculty, staff and senior leadership in developing and implementing the UB Curriculum.
“The curriculum is what it is because of the faculty, the advising staff — everybody doing their part, Hanypsiak says.
Stott says the new UB Curriculum has garnered the university a lot of national media attention, as well as inquiries from other colleges and universities.
“The preconception is that institutional culture — not just at UB but at all large universities — is not conducive to transformative change. As an institution we should be very proud of what we’ve achieved — not just the accomplishment, but the content that we’re going to deliver.”
“People should be very proud of the fact that UB — a large state school — has seriously invested in liberal arts education at a time when a lot of states are increasingly undergoing ‘stemification’ and looking at their state institutions as credentialing factories,” he says.
“Even as our institution is growing enrollment, we’re guaranteeing every single student gets a UB Seminar — whether they’re a freshman or a transfer. Every student who comes to UB will sit in a classroom with a ladder faculty member and have this class that is all about intellectual exploration, about developing the skills required to flourish in the academic setting of a Research 1 university.
“And that’s a unique promise for a university of our size,” Stott says, pointing out that it’s not unusual for small liberal arts colleges with billion-dollar endowments and only several thousand students to offer first-year seminars or first-year experiences.
“We can do that here because we have a faculty who believe in it, an administration who is willing to invest in it, and a set of really creative people who are motivated to deliver this kind of educational experience.”