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May 1, 2007

Purdue's College of Science undergraduate curriculum evolves

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -
Students teambuilding
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Purdue's College of Science faculty approved a proposal that will take effect this fall amending the undergraduate core curriculum requirements.

"The College of Science has added the increasingly important areas of communications, multidisciplinary learning and teamwork to the curriculum to prepare students for the rapidly evolving science fields," said Jeffrey Vitter, the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science.

"All of the departments of our college are nationally recognized by our peers, and it is clear our students receive an outstanding education. To maintain our position as a leader in the sciences, we must progress and evolve as the fields of science progress and evolve. Just as we need new facilities and instruments to push the boundaries of research, so, too, do we need to bring our curriculum forward to push the boundaries of education."

The undergraduate education task force began its work in the fall of 2003 and obtained input from students, faculty, alumni and employers. Through these interactions, the task force established the following educational outcomes that each graduate should possess: demonstrated depth in his or her major; ability to think and function as a scientist; ability to communicate well, both orally and in writing; ability to collaborate as part of a team; ability to function in a multidisciplinary setting; and demonstrated breadth of knowledge.

The undergraduate education policy and curriculum committee then prepared a curriculum proposal and held open forums with faculty, students and alumni before creating a final proposal.

Additions to the core curriculum requirements include courses and experiences in technical writing, technical presentation, team building and collaboration, computer science, and statistics.

New courses the college will initiate include "Great Issues in Science," a course that addresses the impact science has on society and the ethical issues that arise for scientists in today's world.

Multidisciplinary problem solving also will be a requirement. Students will be able to meet this through coursework, by completing a minor or second major in another discipline, or by participating in a research project or internship that involves a multidisciplinary approach to addressing a problem.

"Knowledge of other scientific disciplines allows a student to approach a problem from different perspectives," said H.E. "Buster" Dunsmore, associate professor of computer science and head of the undergraduate education policy and curriculum committee. "Increasingly, solutions to the great problems in science are being pursued by teams of scientists whose expertise cuts across various disciplines. We must prepare our students to work on a multidisciplinary team in order to prepare them for the future of science."

The college also included alternative ways students could fulfill requirements, said Christie Sahley, associate dean of the College of Science who is a member of the undergraduate education policy and curriculum committee and also on the earlier task force.

"We tried to build flexibility into the requirements," she said. "For example, study abroad experiences can now count toward the foreign language and culture requirement. There are many ways to learn, and sometimes experiences outside of the classroom are the best way to accomplish an educational goal. We wanted to allow room for these experiences and to recognize their importance."

A pilot program was instituted for all entering freshmen in actuarial sciences and earth and atmospheric sciences during the 2006-07 academic year. This was very helpful in evaluating some of the requirements that were under consideration, she said.

The requirements for a major are determined at the departmental level, Sahley said. 

"Each individual department maintains control and can fine tune the college requirements to best prepare the students for careers in that area," Sahley said. "We also encourage faculty to send proposals to the committee if they develop a course or project that fulfills a desired educational outcome. This curriculum will not be a static entity. We will rely on feedback to continue to offer our students the best education possible."

A detailed description of the curriculum requirements is available online at http://www.science.purdue.edu/faculty_staff/committees/undergrad_task_force/index.asp  

Writer: Elizabeth Gardner, (765) 494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu

Sources: Jeffrey Vitter, (765) 494-1730, sciencedean@science.purdue.edu

H.E. "Buster" Dunsmore, (765) 494-1996, bxd@cs.purdue.edu

Christie Sahley, (765) 494-1735, sahley@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

PHOTO CAPTION: Lailah Jackson, left, and Kayty Luptak, undergraduates in the Women in Science program at Purdue, work together in the commons of Earhart Hall. The College of Science recently amended its curriculum to include a team-building course requirement. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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