Required classes foster new academic interests

When I arrived at Lewis & Clark, I knew that general education classes were part of the deal. I had already read through the online catalog and annotated my Guide for Pioneer Success that had been mailed to me with my acceptance letter. I knew that I wanted to be a psychology major, and I also knew that if left to my own devices I would only take psychology classes for the next four years, so I was counting on LC’s general education structure to expand the contents of my class schedule. 

However, many students arriving at college have no idea what field or career they want to pursue, and general education requirements can help with that too. In fact, inspiring undecided students is exactly what they were designed for. I believe in the general education system and its ability to draw students out of their own department and emphasize interdisciplinary work. 

Julie Weissman and Kenneth J. Boning, professors at Saint Louis University, found in a 2003 study that general education classes are designed to support the motivation of students and engage them in the learning process. Theoretically, by taking classes that are outside your home discipline you learn to see the world through a different lens, thus leading you to ask new questions and think more critically. 

I know this goal is not always met in practice, but at least in my experience it was always attempted. My Perspectives in Biology class added a unit on the virus that causes COVID-19, and my Fall 2019 Exploration & Discovery section spent a whole month on climate change. My SPAN 201 class taught me about the culture of Latin American countries, which then helped to explain some of the vaccine hesitancy among Latinx people I learned about in my Introduction to American Politics class. The point of these examples being that, if done right, general education classes complement one another and ask more of you intellectually than if you were to only take classes in your favored discipline. 

The problem is that students often feel that their general education classes have not been done right, and seldom succeed in the connections I mentioned above. I hear this complaint most often with regard to the so-called “science requirement.” 

For all incoming students, this requirement is called Natural Sciences and it comprises only one course in either biology, physics, chemistry or geology. However, students like myself who operate under the pre-2020 catalog know this as the Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning requirement, and it is three courses in three different types of science and math. 

Upon first inspection of the course catalog I felt similarly to my disgruntled peers, wondering how any of these classes would ever apply to me in my field of psychology. I fulfilled the requirement using Psychological Methods in my first semester, Computer Science Principles in the fall of my sophomore year and Perspectives in Biology in the spring. 

While without the requirement I would not have taken these classes, I am glad I did. I was able to look at these quantitative-based classes from the perspective of a social scientist. When learning about cybersecurity I was wondering to myself about the psychology of privacy and what would lead someone to steal another’s personal information and in biology, I learned about the genes and neural networks that carry the information that lead to the behaviors that I study. 

These classes, the most commonly dreaded of all the general requirements, are experiences I would have missed out on if not for the structured curriculum here at LC. Of course there can always be more choices; I personally wish I got to experience a history class which it seems like the post-2020 requirements are emphasizing. However, I truly believe that the core of the system — writing, physical education, language other than English and a creative art — are classes that every college student needs to take, to expand their mind and push themselves out of their comfort zone. 

Who knows, you might come in as an English major and discover a new passion for environmental studies.

Illustration by CJ Pierce

Aidan was a contributor for the Pioneer Log in his first semester at Lewis and Clark and became a features editor for his second semester. He is also a member of the Ultimate Frisbee team, Model United Nations, and Psych club.
As a features editor, he hopes to direct students’ attention to events, people, and interesting details about the community they share. He also hopes to inspire fellow students to write for the Pioneer Log and contribute to its supportive journalistic environment.

Aidan is a Psychology major and English minor. In his free time, he enjoys reading, writing poetry, playing the piano, and all things comedy.

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