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General-studies classes broaden student perspective


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One of the most frequent questions I am asked as an academic adviser is why students majoring in a given area have to take seemingly unrelated courses.

When students begin their college educations, they choose a major that interests them. Obviously, they expect to take classes that relate to that degree or major.

First-generation college students, especially, do not realize that a significant part of their post-secondary education is designed to broaden their perspective and stimulate logical and creative thinking through general education core classes.

As educators, we strive to bring these principles to each of our classes. But oftentimes, students need a baseline to begin with before they delve into the specialties of their degree courses.

Psychology, sociology, calculus or any other general education course imparts a certain set of critical thinking and analysis skills and a thread of continuity among all courses. Students who have been exposed to these skills and the connections between all fields can claim rightly to be college-educated.

Understanding how people relate to one another and how and why other cultures interact and react the way they do is transferable across all disciplines.

In our rapidly changing world, one fact is constant: We are continuing to become a more globalized society. This realization is important for everyone in college, from agriculture students to engineering technology students to future nurses. Whether one is working on a farm every day with 100 dairy cows or in a busy emergency room in a major city, understanding how to relate to people at some point will prove integral to a successful career.

A communications class is required of every post-secondary degree program that I am aware of. The basic skills of public speaking, interpersonal communication and English composition on a higher level are among the benchmarks that set college-educated professionals apart from the pack.

Regardless of technical proficiencies attained through a degree, professionalism in a career comes from being able to present yourself in a manner that represents the education you earned.

In our globalized workforce, we sometimes have to work with others whose views, beliefs and cultures we do not share.

Cultural diversity courses expose college students to the broader range of people beyond their immediate world.

When student populations in many majors are not diversified, courses that explore cultural diversity become more important.

To take it a step further, many students are taking advantage of course offerings that immerse them into another culture for a week or even a full semester. These for-credit, study-abroad classes can be the most life-changing experience students have in their entire collegiate careers.

So as I continue to answer the same question — nearly every time I enroll a student into one of the dreaded general studies courses — I can do it with a smile.

I know that someday they will understand exactly why those courses are required to finish their degree.

Matt John is program chair of agriculture at Ivy Tech Community College – Columbus/Franklin.

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