Beyond the confusing program planners, verbose Web sites and awkward advising meetings, liberal learning is about the students who have to take its required classes to graduate. With that in mind, The Signal spoke to students pursuing each of the different options – A, B and C – to see what they thought about their experiences.
The most familiar option is C, the breadth distribution, where a student takes three courses in each of the three broad areas: Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences & History and Natural Science & Quantitative Reasoning.
The two lesser-known options allow students to take classes around a theme or topic and fulfill their liberal learning requirements at the same time. These together are called interdisciplinary concentrations. Option A is to select a preapproved interdisciplinary concentration, while Option B allows a student to design his or her own interdisciplinary concentration with faculty input and sponsorship.
Option A – Focus with flexibility
Kristen Nardolillo, sophomore English major, said she had a leg up when it came to hearing about her liberal learning options. As a member of the Student Government Association (SGA), she said she was more in touch with the services available. She credited a visit from Richard Kamber, coordinator for interdisciplinary concentrations, to SGA for guiding her to the Law and Society preapproved interdisciplinary concentration.
The concentration works in a way similar to a minor, allowing her to pick and choose courses from groupings within the concentration. For example, to fulfill her Logical/Critical Thinking requirement within the concentration, Nardolillo can take one of the following: Introduction to Logic, Metalogic, or Foundations of Reasoning and Advocacy.
For Nardolillo, Option A was a way to get the most out of her required classes.
“It’s cool because you can pick stuff you’re geared toward,” Nardolillo said.
Nardolillo said that some advisors might not be as eager to mention the interdisciplinary concentrations for fear of losing students.
“If everybody did a concentration, a lot of liberal learning courses would have no one in them,” Nardolillo said.
But not all students in Option A are satisfied with the decision.
Trista Altstadt, sophomore secondary education/English major, said that she would have designed her own concentration instead of choosing Classical and Early Modern British Literary Studies.
Altstadt said she wanted a concentration in all ancient literature, not just Greek and Roman. But she said her open-options seminar never mentioned Option B, nor did her advisor bring it up.
“I wish I had known about the self-designed concentrations,” Altstadt said. “I definitely would have done it.”
Option B – Making their own way
Rachel Seaton, sophomore criminology major, was interested in forensic sciences, but the College didn’t have a major or minor for her. Instead, she sat down with her advisor, Hank Fradella, associate professor of criminology and justice studies, and came up with her own concentration in forensic studies.
Seaton said the end result was “tailored to” her interest in shows like “C.S.I.” that feature forensic investigations. The concentration opened her eyes to areas that she would have otherwise ignored. As a result, Seaton said she’s considering adding a chemistry minor, or changing her major to it.
She said that Fradella made the process easy.
“Surprisingly, I didn’t have to do much,” Seaton said. “I would definitely recommend it. It’s really easy to do, why not do it?”
Kathy Bet, senior biology major, also created her own forensics concentration. She admitted that her process “took a while,” but the end result was worth it.
“I’m glad I have something on my transcript” to show employers and graduate schools, she said.
Option C – The rest
To Lauren Szwech, junior psychology and criminology major, Option C liberal learning meant being caught in a maze of program planners. According to Szwech, her advisor made her feel like she had to follow the sheet and never mentioned Options A or B.
“I don’t think they explained (the options) well,” Szwech said of the College administration.
As a result, Szwech said she’s had to take more classes than a concentration would have required, and the courses don’t relate to her career.
“Geology isn’t going to help me in my life,” Szwech said.
With the College finally getting the word out about all three liberal learning options, it will be easier for students like Altstadt and Szwech to choose the option that satisfies them best.