Gen Ed.’s — a narrative of your time at Penn State

It can be a burden, or it can be a piece of cake. It can be incredibly interesting or incredibly dull. It can even be life-changing, and every student at Penn State experiences it — general education.


Management 496, an invitation-only independent study class, allows students to work on various projects throughout a semester. And this semester, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Gus Colangelo is overseeing a group in the course that is focusing its project on general education and the changes that will be implemented in the fall of 2016.

There are five members working on the project: Ashley Weinheimer , Noelle Rosellini , Eleanora White , Simrun Soni and Tori Hartigan.

“We’re trying to represent the student’s perspective,” White (junior-supply chain management) said. “We’re gaining access with students, meeting with advisors and talking to subcommittees [of the general education task force] — we’re making sure we’re not duplicating efforts.”

White said the task force is “covering all their bases” and its “energy is there.” The task force is paying close attention to the students’ perspectives and wants their input.

The group presented some of its research at the general education retreat in late January, where its ideas and suggestions were well-received by members of the task force. The students could “pinpoint” the subcommittees that would give the most relevance to their research, and have since been working with the task force.

The group said it has looked at Big Ten schools’ general education requirements and noticed that Penn State is on the “high end” of credits, coming in at 45.

“We want it to be realistic,” Rosellini (sophomore-advertising and public relations) said. “Size is an important factor. What works for a small school isn’t going to necessarily work for a school with so many campuses and students.”

For example, some schools do themes, while some don’t require Health and Physical Activity courses. It’s about understanding what would work best at a school as large and global as Penn State, Rosellini said.

The research group derives much of its information from focus groups held throughout University Park and all commonwealth campuses. The researchers send out surveys to the campuses they cannot reach in person.

“Something we learned in our all-freshmen focus groups is what is expected versus what is given,” Rosellini said. “Everyone really wants to learn things outside of their majors, but they’re nervous to take the [courses] that sound really interesting because they might be too challenging.”

She said it seems like students “drop their standards” for general education after they get to Penn State, taking classes that seem easy but they aren’t necessarily interested in.

It’s no secret students go to their friends, siblings or ratemyprofessors.com for suggestions on which general education courses to take and which to avoid.

Rosellini said they are also seeking advisors for suggestions.

“The Division of Undergraduate Studies advisors described general education as a ‘narrative of your time here,’ which I thought was really interesting,” Rosellini said. “I don’t think many of us look at them like that. We think of them as cumbersome.”

Rossellini said the advisors described general education as a way for students to learn their “strong points.” Students should think about what makes a class easy, because that says something about them— it may even signal what major to lean toward, she said.

In this way, themes could be a large factor in the new general education system.

The group said if themes were implemented, they’d have to be flexible and not “trap” students.

White said themes should be limited to two classes so that if students don’t like one, they can easily “jump” out of that class and pick another.

“Being a senior now, I think about general education more,” Soni (senior-economics) said. “I have to pass an obesity class in order to graduate — it was the only GHA course that was available. It’s kind of frustrating when you have all of these requirements, but you don’t get to enjoy them.”

Another aspect of general education the group has researched is the role that syllabi could possibly play in the new implementations.

White said having the full syllabi available online could help students make reasonable choices when selecting general courses, adding that the focus groups they’ve held have agreed with this.

Hartigan (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) said she agrees that full syllabi would be helpful in choosing a class because it would give more reliable information.

“Being a freshman, you don’t really get a lot out of two sentences on eLion ,” Hartigan said. “I went to my friends or sister to learn about classes — I even went to ratemyprofessors[.com]. It ended up not helping. I thought the opposite from what I read, because everyone has different interests.”

The main goal of the group is to get Penn State students from every campus involved in the process of altering the general education system.

While the group can’t exactly plan the logistics or credit requirements of general education, Rosellini said the way students perceive it as something their five-person group can actually “have an impact on.”

“I think the biggest thing is talking to as many people as possible and using their input to craft our suggestions in the end,” Soni said.

The project will end with the class in April, when the spring semester comes to a close. If the project is well-received, it could be carried over into next semester, but it’s not definite, White said.

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