Renewing Northwest: What Does UCOR Mean For U?
With the introduction of a new core curriculum, this new school year heralded in a lot more than the biggest freshmen class NU has yet to see. After years of discussion, the development of the new core curriculum began in earnest. But why, after nearly eight decades, is Northwest looking to change its standard mode of operation? Simple. “We want to offer more flexibility and exploration,” Professor Lenae Nofziger explains. “We want students to have a wider education.”
You Score With UCOR
A significant feature of the new core curriculum is a new section of classes labeled UCOR. Featuring both Identity and Vocation and Faith and Humanity, UCOR offers a distinctly unique experience to students who choose to attend NU. From day one, students are given a common experience and a place to build relationships. Together with faculty, incoming students will explore who they are and where they are going. The course focuses on lectures and small groups designed to promote critical thinking and reflection for the duration of their time at NU. In short, Dr. Ron Jacobson, Dean of the School of Education, says it best: “It is tough when you are 18 to say what you are going to do with the rest of your life. What are the gifts God’s given me? Do I have an analytical mind? Have I discovered my hidden talents? The UCOR classes give students a chance to reflect, explore, and find out ‘Who am I?’ early on in their university experience.”
Whether you are an incoming freshman, just entering your program, or transferring in, the new curriculum allows more freedom in what classes you take and what credits you transfer. The new requirements allow for less restrictive programs. This means that students are able to explore more areas of academia than their major classes. For transfer students, this means any outside credits are more likely to fit into your core requirements without the headache of appeals and paperwork. Students in the midst of their time here at NU will have the choice to stick with the old program or switch to the new. Either way, the new substitution practices allow all the students at Northwest to maximize what courses they have taken in a freedom unseen by the previous, more restrictive programs.
The new core curriculum’s academic scope branches far further than the unifying UCORs. A big factor driving the switch was the studies concerning writing requirements in base level courses and feedback from these studies. A book by Scott Jaschik titled, Academically Adrift takes a critical look at how classroom expectations can determine what a student gains from taking a course. Fittingly, this book served as a guideline for the creation of the new ‘writing practice classes.’ This label guarantees that a writing intensive course will have a minimum 21 pages of written work. “In five or six or ten years, you will remember very little of the specific content,” remarks Dr. Jim Heugel, Provost, “so in some ways, it doesn’t matter which courses you take so long as you take good courses that teach you how to learn, think and write. Engage your mind in a positive way. Regardless of which courses students choose, they will be walking away with important skills. Regardless of where you go, writing is important.”
The downsides to such a major curriculum overhaul hit the faculty hardest. Professors are working hard to adjust their curricula to fit the changing criteria. The Provost’s office is also hard at work. With the added flexibility comes an administrative jigsaw puzzle of balancing the previously required classes with the newly required electives into the courses offered each semester. It is very likely that what courses are offered in the future will depend on what students decide to take. “The faculty voted to impose this on themselves, and this is indicative of a willingness to inconvenience themselves and take on challenges for the benefit of their students,” Heugel remarked with a hint of pride. “It’s the perfect example of what we want Northwest to be. It promotes flexibility, hospitality and quality education.”
“All Truth is God’s Truth,” says Dr. Blaine Charette, one of the professors who helped develop the UCOR program. This mentality explains how the vastly different opinions and backgrounds of those involved in the planning of the new curriculum worked in harmony to institute such a major change smoothly. Historically, other universities who have undergone such a drastic change have found the process bothersome and a cause of conflict among the staff and students. In true NU fashion, however, what elsewhere has caused discord and chaos has brought only discourse and community.
Written by Marlene Pierce