The First-Years Abroad
New CGS program for second-semester freshmen
By Susan Seligson
At the start of the spring semester, BU’s College of General Studies (CGS) welcomed the first 80 freshmen to its fledgling January Program in Boston and London. The new core curriculum is condensed into six months (rather than the previous nine) and capped by a six-week summer residence in London. Greeted at CGS with a screenshot from the time-travel classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the incoming freshmen were briefed on the program’s broad first-year sweep, which sent the students from New England to Old England, with a side trip to Paris, to encourage the development of a “historical consciousness,” says Stacy Godnick, CGS associate dean for student academic life.
Focusing on six revolutions that shaped history, the interdisciplinary six-month course of study takes students from Neolithic times, when man first began to form settlements, to the technological and communications revolution sweeping the globe today. Developed in 2013 by the CGS dean and faculty, the program includes study of the birth of democracy in ancient Greece and Rome, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment (with particular emphasis on the French and American revolutions), the Industrial Revolution, and the technological revolution of the past decades. When the students return to BU in Fall 2014 for their sophomore year, they will focus on modern Russia and China in social sciences and on the history of ethical philosophy in humanities, and there will also be a new natural science course.
“We came up with a different way” of teaching the rigors of research, rhetoric, and analysis that CGS is known for, says Matthew Parfitt, a CGS associate professor and chair of the division of rhetoric. Designed to help students evolve into “knowledgeable, informed, and good social citizens,” the program, and CGS as a whole, hopes to inspire a new generation of renaissance women and men, says Susan Lee (GRS’03), a CGS senior lecturer in social sciences.
Characterized by small class sizes and faculty-student teams that work closely together for a year, CGS requires students to complete the two-year program before moving on to other BU colleges for their junior and senior years. Classes are small, with fewer than 10 students; and faculty, who teach only the core curriculum of humanities, social sciences, natural science and mathematics, and rhetoric, meet once a week to discuss students’ progress. With its summer semester abroad, the January program will take the team model a step further as students and faculty live and travel together as a learning community. During the January orientation, many of the students—who hail mostly from the Northeast, Florida, and California—were already familiar with one another after a phantom fall semester (all were accepted last spring) of social media interaction, mostly through a Facebook page the incoming freshmen created themselves.
Like all CGS team-taught curricula, the program was designed to inspire “a kind of transformation,” says Parfitt. “It’s a whole new way of thinking, a new perspective on the world,” and one that endows students with academic competencies to reap the most from their college experiences. “They come in with high school mentalities and leave with college mentalities,” he says. “They’re really changed by the experience.” For the January program, “we wanted to ramp that up.” With the six-week London residence, there is even more of the faculty involvement that characterizes CGS, he says, and a greater impact on the ways students reflect on the past and the present.
Established in 1952, CGS has about 1,100 students. Parfitt says the new January freshman program will expand its enrollment over the next few years to comprise a larger share of the college’s total population.
A version of this story previously appeared in BU Today.