November 30, 2011- Issue 12 Front Page

GC reflects on Foundations program

By VICTORIA ENGELHARDT
Features Editor
Source: vimeo.com This image, drawn in Sharpie by Dr. Boris Zakic, comes from a video created by professors that explains the Foundations program.

The Foundations and Core Program, now in its second year, was created as an overhaul of GCs General Education curriculum. The flagship classes of the program, FDN 111 and 112, were developed to be foundational courses taken by every freshman to help them cultivate key skills that would be useful throughout their college career and beyond.

FDN 111, taken by all incoming freshmen in their first semester, uses important texts from various fields to cultivate critical thinking, reading, writing and arguing skills. Dr. Kristin Czarnecki, Co-Director of the Foundations program, says texts such as Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” were chosen “so that students could build their skills in concert with some of the most important, fascinating works ever written.” These texts enable students “to think carefully and critically about the world around them, past and present.”

Dr. Rosemary Allen, Provost and Dean of the College, explains that the intended purpose of the Foundations program is “not just to make every Georgetown graduate a better student; we believe the program will make them better people—thoughtful and reflective, able to see from a variety of perspectives and understand the complex world we live in.”

Dr. Jonathan Sands Wise, who teaches two sections of FDN 111 this semester, says those who teach the class are putting as much time and effort into it as the students are because, “The reality is that we cannot teach skills without practicing those skills together, and that means doing a lot of careful grading.”

That careful grading has led to many a distraught freshmen, who may not have come to Georgetown prepared for a class such as FDN 111. Meredith Scalos is able to see the value in what she calls “the firm foundation” upon which Georgetown is allowing them to grow, but others have yet to see the real benefit of the program. Czarnecki credits disgruntlement about the class to it being a completely new world for students. “The unfamiliar tends to cause a bit of anxiety, and it’s unlikely that students realize in the moment how valuable the course will be to them for the next three years and beyond.”

Sophomore Brenda Patel, who was in the first FND class last fall, reflected on the class, saying, “I didn’t see how much it helped me until after I got out of the class because while the class was still going on I just wanted it to be over.” Other sophomores echo her sentiments, including Grant Harned, who said, “I invested a very large portion of time my freshman year toward the course, but, overall, I feel as though it paid off in the long run.” These words may comfort freshmen who might be wondering about the usefulness of a class that has all but consumed their first semester in college.

For students struggling in the course, there are resources available to help. Peer tutors are available for one-on-one tutoring and professors are more than happy to assist students who are willing to put forth the effort needed to succeed. Dr. Allen explains that “the key is to take the class seriously. Don’t sell yourself short: you can do it, as long as you are willing to put the effort and time into it that is necessary for success. That mastery of personal discipline is as important to college success as the mastery of the reading and critical thinking skills.”

Dr. Czarnecki believes that the FDN program is beneficial for students of all majors. “The class is worthwhile in and of itself, and we’re giving them a solid foundation they will utilize in all of their courses from here on out, no matter what they decide to major in.” Some students, including Patel, have found that the Foundations curriculum is less applicable in some majors than others. “The skills I learned in FDN definitely helped me out in my language and ethics courses,” she said. “However, it’s not very helpful in my science classes (which is all that I really have now).”

While Dr. Allen and others acknowledge that the program has lofty ambitions that not every student will achieve for one reason or another, they do think it is a goal worth trying for. “The course is challenging— but I believe the course is appropriately challenging, an opportunity for students to learn to stretch themselves.”

Allen’s advice for freshmen is to “Keep at it in Foundations—it’s worth it.”

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