The undergraduate offerings at Stanford University’s School of Engineering could be engaged in a tug of war.
On one side is the foundation of math, science and major-specific courses students need to earn a degree now, or four years from now. On the other, the skills, curiosity and bent toward problem solving that students will need in their first job and in the job they get 20 or 40 years into their careers.
Gwynn Powell, an associate professor of recreation and leisure studies at the University of Georgia, knew there was something wrong in her department several years ago, when she could not bring herself to recommend any of her students to the directors of a local summer camp.
“I had to say to them, ‘Well, our students are just not getting this stuff as well as they’re supposed to,’ ” Powell says.
The University of California at Berkeley is an experimental place, and sometimes those experiments start as early as the summer before new students set foot on campus.
This summer, the university’s College of Letters and Science -- home to three quarters of Berkeley’s 25,000 undergraduates -- will ask freshmen and transfers to return a cotton swab covered in cells collected from their inner cheeks in an effort to introduce them to the emerging field of personalized medicine.
A group of faculty members at the University of California at Berkeley hoped to generate conversation among students, and expected a bit of criticism from colleagues, for asking incoming undergraduates to submit DNA samples that would be analyzed and discussed as part of an orientation program.
What they didn’t anticipate -- but got -- was national news media attention and letters from genetics watchdog groups calling on Berkeley to cancel its plans.
As hot higher education ideas go, the three-year bachelor's degree continues to get a lot of attention and praise. Most recently, an op-ed in The New York Times made the case for three years of undergraduate study.
College orientation programs don't yet have the power of Oprah's Book Club, but they increasingly feature books that students are asked to read over the summer or during their first week on campus -- and to discuss with their new classmates. The idea is that having every freshman read the same book builds a sense of common experience and adds intellectual content to a week that can easily be consumed by learning a college bureaucracy and socializing.