The Challenge CurriculumEndorsed by the Faculty April 27, 2018

The Curriculum Committee is pleased to present this proposal for a new general education program at Gustavus Adolphus College. As we crafted this plan, we sought to remain faithful to our mission as a liberal arts college and to the ACTS vision in which the College commits to “equip students to lead purposeful lives and to act on the great challenges of our time.” This curriculum demonstrates our conviction that a rigorous liberal arts education remains the best preparation for engaging enduring questions and addressing new challenges. In this curriculum, we encourage students to explore the liberal arts and sciences and, in so doing, to develop as critical thinkers, ethical actors, global citizens, and effective communicators--to become people able and willing to work increase knowledge about complex issues and strive for peace and justice in the world. The study of multiple disciplinary perspectives will prepare students to be responsible, reflective citizens who know how ethical, religious, and philosophical questions and issues related to personal, social, and global location arise in places as diverse as laboratories, government agencies, art studios, boardrooms, universities, and city halls. The curriculum also enables students to participate in the liberating potential of the liberal arts and sciences as they, in a culminating integrative project, address a significant question or challenge with their peers. 

This curriculum recognizes that there is much we do well at Gustavus. We introduce students to the liberal arts through small, first-term seminars; we teach writing across the curriculum; and we ask students to explore multiple disciplinary perspectives. These things remain. This curriculum also builds on existing areas of strength: our commitment to engaging issues related to justice and equity both nationally and internationally; our concern for ethical, philosophical and religious reflection and action; our commitment to scientific inquiry; and our interest in student wellbeing. Finally, the curriculum seeks to address weaknesses in our current LAP curriculum, particularly as they relate to the first and second goals of the ACTS strategic plan: diversity and integration. 

In the 21st century, students will confront new questions and challenges. Our general education program introduces them to some of the ideas and perspectives as well as the skills, abilities, and habits of mind they will need to address those questions and challenges. It will provide them with opportunities to use their liberal arts education to engage authentic problems. And, we hope, it will encourage them to become active citizens who work for the common good by forging connections among people, place, and different forms of knowledge. 

Curriculum in Outline

  1. First Term Seminar (1)
  2. Challenge Capstone (1)
  3. Liberal Arts Perspective (5)
    a. Artistic Expression or Interpretation/Making Art
    b. Theological Reflection/Exploring Belief and Practice
    c. Empirical Reasoning/ Natural Science/Scientific Reasoning
    d. Analyzing Social Systems/Social Science
    e. Humanistic Inquiry/Humanities
  4. Writing Across the Curriculum (3*)
  5. Quantitative and Analytical Reasoning (1)
  6. Wellbeing (1)
  7. Global Citizenship (4 = 2 foreign language, 1 Global Affairs & Cultures, 1 U.S. Identities and Difference)

Curriculum Explanations and Rationale

Seminars: GAC 100 and 300
GAC 100: First Term Seminar
We envision GAC 100 as a First Term Seminar akin to our current model taken by students in their first semester on campus. We envision that as we implement the new curriculum, the expectations for GAC 100 will be refined so that students coming out of GAC 100 have a more consistent experience and so that faculty are better able to focus on a few key liberal arts skills in their GAC 100 courses. Instructors of GAC 100 seminars will continue to serve as academic advisors until students are ready to declare a major.
Topics for GAC 100 seminars will be chosen by faculty, but should fit into one of three broad themes (we envision a process for changing the themes as a desire for change emerges): Health and Happiness, the Earth and Its Environment, and Justice and Inequality. These areas will facilitate advising without constraining students’ choices as they move through the general education curriculum. A student who thinks she might want to participate in a capstone in Health and Happiness, for example, might elect to take some general education courses that fit into that general area, although she would not be required to do so.
GAC 100 Rationale: As proposed, GAC 100 continues the excellent foundation of our general education program by introducing students to college-level expectations for critical thinking and written and oral communication. First term seminars are identified as a high impact educational practice and give us the opportunity to socialize students to campus life and community expectations. Faculty feedback has consistently identified our FTS program as a strength and as something we wish to continue. We discussed the possibility of creating a two-semester sequence in response to initial faculty feedback, but ultimately, faculty expressed more enthusiasm for adding a capstone experience rather than a second semester in the first year. The first-term seminar addresses multiple strategies outlined under Goal 2 including, emphasizing academic discovery and exploration and the development of accurate self-knowledge (2.1.1), creating a culture of intellectual engagement particularly through developing opportunities for dialogue (2.1.2), supporting interdisciplinary collaborations to address complex problems (2.1.3), and emphasizing the value of ethically engaging the world in its diversity (2.1.4). 

GAC 300: Challenge Capstone
We envision GAC 300 as a project based, interdisciplinary capstone course where a small group of students (16) work in close collaboration with faculty on a designated project. All students take this course, normally during the junior or senior year after they have completed (or are concurrently enrolled in) their area requirements. Like GAC 100, topics for GAC 300 seminars will be developed by the teaching faculty and should fit into one of three broad themes: Health and Happiness, the Earth and Its Environment, and Justice and Inequality. These areas will facilitate advising without constraining students’ choices as they move through the general education curriculum. All capstones must be open to students from across the college, facilitate integration of learning, and address a question or challenge that can be explored from multiple perspectives. Capstones will involve some shared expectations for reflection and integration. Projects will fall in one (or more) of four general categories:

  • Community-Based Learning: Students work closely with community partners on a mutually-beneficial project (Example: Students work with the Committee Against Domestic Assault (CADA) to design and conduct a survey of area social workers to assess their level of awareness about the interconnections between domestic violence and child protection.)
  • Digital Humanities: Students use technology or computational models to explore humanities-based questions and/or present humanities-based research. (Example: Students create a website aimed at high school students learning Minnesota history that maps population changes in southern Minnesota from 1800 to 1900 and provides primary source materials and interpretations of those changes.)
  • Research/Scholarship/Creativity: Students engage in an ongoing or new research/scholarship/creativity project. (Example: Students write a grant proposal for a funding for student-faculty research about prairie restoration. The next cohort in the course might begin the research!)
  • Special Event: Students help to plan or organize a conference, information fair, or other special event. (Example: Students help plan and organize the annual MayDay! Conference.)

GAC 300 Rationale: As proposed, GAC 300 provides integration of the general education curriculum by creating a space for students to reflect on and use the skills, content knowledge, and methodological approaches from their general education and disciplinary courses. The desire to create a capstone experience as a mechanism for integration emerged early in the discussion process and we took this feedback into account when deciding what type of capstone to propose. The most recent faculty survey on this topic showed a high level of enthusiasm for a capstone course and we opted to propose a general education capstone experience rather than a second semester seminar in the first year in response to faculty feedback which expressed a preference for an integrative capstone experience. The proposed capstone gives students the opportunity to practice analytical and problem solving skills, specifically mentioned in Goal 2 of the the ACTS Strategic Plan. It addresses multiple strategies outlined under Goal 2 including, emphasizing student initiative and intellectual risk taking (2.1.1), creating a culture of intellectual engagement (2.1.2), supporting interdisciplinary collaborations to address complex problems (2.1.3), and initiating and supporting mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships with external partners (2.1.6). We expect that multiple sections would also emphasize the value of ethically engaging the world in its diversity and would provide students with the opportunity to cross the borders of language and culture (2.1.4). 

Challenge Themes
Challenges Themes: GAC 100 and 300 seminars will be grouped into three broad themes: Health and Happiness, the Earth and Its Environment, and Justice and Inequality. We envision a faculty leader for each theme who will identify all other courses throughout the curriculum (general education and disciplinary) being offered during the year that relate to the theme. Students and faculty will be encouraged (but not required) to use this list for advising purposes to help identify courses of interest. Students will not be required to take general education course within a specific theme and the theme of their GAC 300 does not need to be the same as their GAC 100. In addition to compiling lists of related courses for advising, faculty leaders for each theme will identify campus speakers and events related to the theme throughout the year. These events can then be publicized and targeted to students and faculty with a demonstrated interest in the theme, creating a broader culture of intellectual engagement across campus.
Challenge Themes Rationale: Faculty expressed an interest in developing a general education curriculum that is more integrated, yet, also expressed support for supporting student initiative and choice. Our proposal serves as a hybrid model, providing students with opportunities to explore multiple topics and departments while still providing a framework for coherence in the general education experience. Developing challenge themes supports several strategies outlined in Goal 2 of the Strategic Plan including emphasizing student initiative (2.1.1), creating a campus culture of intellectual engagement (2.1.2), and supporting and facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration to address complex problems (2.1.3). 

Liberal Arts in Context 

Students will explore a variety of approaches through courses in five distribution areas. These areas resemble existing categories and we envision courses from some departments falling into different areas (e.g.. some political science courses are Analyzing Social Systems while others are Humanistic Inquiry) and we envision multiple departments contributing to each area. We propose the following five areas (names are a work in progress):

  • Artistic Expression or Interpretation/Making Art
  • Theological Reflection/Exploring Belief and Practice
  • Empirical Reasoning/ Natural Science/Scientific Reasoning
  • Analyzing Social Systems/Social Science
  • Humanistic Inquiry/Humanities 

We envision faculty subcommittees working next year to describe these categories and establish criteria for course designations. It is our hope that we can think creatively about such criteria so that faculty can propose new types of courses in these designations. 

Each of the courses designated in one of the five categories must address all four general education student learning outcomes. By “address” we mean that each course must: 

  • Teach from a disciplinary perspective.
  • Offer opportunities to practice oral and written communication.
  • Offer at least two opportunities for students to engage substantively (e.g. through a course discussion or informal or formal writing) ethical, religious, or philosophical issues in the field and/or in the course content.
  • Offer at least two opportunities for students to engage substantively (e.g. through a course discussion or informal or formal writing) issues related to diversity and equity in the field and/or in the course content.

Faculty teaching these courses will be expected to participate in regular assessment efforts, including the collection and evaluation of syllabi, prompts, and student work. 

Courses may only fulfill one of the five areas. They could also carry a WRIT or QUANT designation (see below) but not both. They may also carry Global Affairs & Culture or US Identity & Difference (see below) designations if they fulfill the criteria. These courses may count towards majors and minors at the discretion of the department or program.

Liberal Arts in Context Rationale: Requiring students to take courses in five areas ensures that students are exposed to multiple disciplines and ways of exploring questions and challenges, as indicated in the Curricular Principles affirmed by the faculty. A requirement that students encounter multiple approaches aligns with Strategy 2.1.3 by introducing students to the “application of diverse and even divergent theoretical concepts and models” necessary to do meaningful interdisciplinary work. The above five areas name approaches central to the liberal arts and to our College mission.

Requiring that all general education courses address all four SLOs has been somewhat controversial. We have embraced this requirement as a mechanism for integrating our liberal arts curriculum while serving the College mission. Across each of their five distribution courses, a student will return to the 4 learning outcomes. We believe that educating students about ethics and responsibility, diversity and equity, are not tied to particular disciplines and divisions, but the common responsibility of the College’s faculty. This approach addresses Strategy 2.1.4, which calls for initiatives to help students engage ethically in a diverse world. These general education courses are not intended as substitutes for robust engagement in writing, quantitative and analytical reasoning, ethics, diversity, and equity. Rather, we want students to see that communication, ethics, and issues related to justice, diversity, and equity permeate life and that questions related to them arise defy disciplinary boundaries. 


We envision maintaining the requirement of designated writing courses from at least two different departments. One designated writing course will be WRITD (Writing in the Disciplines) that satisfies one of the student’s major requirements.*

Writing Rationale: We envision that both GAC 100 and GAC 300 will have strong and significant writing components, and we want to supplement this with more opportunities for writing courses during the middle years of a student’s time at Gustavus. We think GAC 100 will include an emphasis on skills generally termed “writing to learn” and GAC 300 will have an emphasis on communicating to a public audience. Writing intensive courses, both within Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and Writing in the Disciplines (WID) models, are included as high impact practices, and continuing a strong commitment to our current model, which blends both WAC and WID, maintains the College’s tradition of ensuring that all students have the written communication skills necessary for civic participation. The writing courses in their current form support initiatives that further the curricular dimensions of the Gustavus Acts Plan (2.1). More specifically, both WRITI and WRITD courses privilege academic discovery and exploration and, through writing to learn and written reflection, facilitate the development of accurate self-knowledge (2.1.1). Moreover, WRITD courses highlight intellectual engagement, making it possible for students to expand their disciplinary research and participate in dialogue across disciplines (2.1.2).

We recognize compelling reasons to continue a WRITI/ WRITD distinction; we recognize some compelling ones to do away with the distinction. Given that the faculty just adopted new WRIT language and requirements in 2015 and wrote new WRIT proposals, we are inclined to wait to address the WRITI/ WRITD question until we discuss the implementation phase. The Writing Program director will work with WPAC and others to ensure that any revisions address the needs of 21st century writers. Digital rhetoric, making arguments to public audiences across multiple genres, and information literacy, for instance, might be necessary components of a contemporary writing program. 

Quantitative and Analytical Reasoning 

A one-course requirement in quantitative and analytical reasoning requirement (QUANT) has two main goals: 1) to prepare students to read, parse, and critique quantitative and computational arguments and increase their understanding of how such methods are properly used; and 2) to teach students to understand and apply statistical, mathematical, and/or computational methods in a discipline-specific context. To accomplish both goals, the course will have designated labs or projects built into the course. QUANT courses can be offered by multiple departments and must have a significant quantitative, mathematical, or computational component. QUANT courses need not carry a liberal arts distribution area designation (i.e. they could be part of a major).

Quantitative Rationale: Faculty expressed a concern about lumping together science and math into a single area and stressed the importance of both areas. This requirement, similar to the existing writing requirement, addresses this concern. Goal 2 of the Gustavus Acts Strategic Plan challenges us to "produce global citizens equipped with intellectual curiosity, analytical and problem-solving skills, and well-developed ethical sensibilities to address ... the great challenges of professional and civic life.” While a high percentage of our students encounter mathematical and quantitative reasoning through the natural course of their majors, we believe all liberal arts graduates should have quantitative and analytical competency. A 1-course QUANT requirement ensures that all Gustavus students are prepared to face "the great challenges of professional and civic life." More so than the current Math-L requirement, the QUANT requirement is oriented toward producing citizens able to understand quantitative and computational arguments in professional and civic life. 

We envision a course or combination of courses (between .5 and 1.0 credits) in which students explore multiple dimensions of wellness (physical, mental, social, etc.). This experience must involve instruction, application, and self-reflection relative to multiple dimensions of wellness, include at least one mode of movement, and prompt students to make connections among the multiple dimensions. Students will also explore how multiple dimensions of wellness impact personal physical, mental, and social health as well as academic and personal success and satisfaction. 

Wellbeing Rationale: A plurality of faculty expressed interest in maintaining a wellness graduation requirement but communicated a desire to broaden the scope beyond the current FIT/ACT model. This requirement facilitates student initiative, intellectual risk-taking, exploration, and the development of self-knowledge as addressed in the Gustavus ACTS plan (2.1.1). Furthermore, a more broadly applied wellness requirement supports interdisciplinary collaboration in an effort to address complex ways to tackle an array of challenges to our wellbeing (2.1.3). 
Global Citizenship 

We believe a 21st-century curriculum demands a substantial commitment to studying diversity in the global and US context and understanding the relationship between the two. To that end, two foreign language classes, one class focusing on global affairs and/or cultures (G), and one class focusing on identity and difference in the US (ID) comprise the Global Citizenship requirement. More specifically, we recommend: 

  • Two semesters of foreign language study at GAC, appropriate to student competence as established by examination. For example, if a student has limited or no foreign language knowledge, that student would take the first two semesters of a language of their choice. If a student has the equivalent of two semesters of competency, the student could take two additional semesters in that language or, if they opted, begin a two-semester sequence in a new language. Exemptions may include multilingual students, students with documented disabilities, and students with college transfer credit.
  • One course that focuses on an area of the world beyond the US and its challenges, cultures, and/or institutions. This course resembles the current GLOBL requirement and would allow students to do a “deep dive” study of the region’s particularities (e.g., art, political institutions, culture, environmental concerns). Both general education and major courses could carry either the G or ID designations. Neither the G nor ID course needs to correspond to the language courses a student takes (e.g., a student could study Spanish and take a G course in Japan and an ID course on African American history). Some advanced language courses may qualify for G or ID designation.
  • One course that focuses on issues of identity and difference (e.g., race, class, gender, sexuality, ability) within the US context in order to educate students about the particular issues and challenges the US faces with respect to diversity and equity. 

We recognize that in many ways the “global” vs. ”domestic” dichotomy is overdrawn and that “global” affairs are spoken in “global” languages right next door while “domestic” companies that market “domestic” products operate on a “global” scale. Any US diversity or difference issue has a global and transnational story. We would embrace courses that situated the “global” or “domestic” in each other’s context. Yet we also recognize both an intrinsic value and practicality based on current faculty expertise of distinguishing the areas from each other. In line with current trends in global studies, we could imagine the distinction eventually fading away as more and more courses were explicitly transnational and not discretely “domestic” or “global.” 

Global Citizenship Rationale: We are persuaded by arguments that including diversity in the general education SLOs and integrating it into area requirements does not adequately educate students for the specific complexities surrounding issues of race, ethnicity, gender, state, and nation. Moreover, we believe that explicit course work in global citizenship and framing foreign language study in this context will heighten the level of conversation around and make more salient issues of diversity and equity in general education courses. We support including foreign language study as part of a Global Citizenship requirement rather than as a stand-alone graduation requirement because it emphasizes the essential role that language study plays in intercultural knowledge and global citizenship. Strategies 2.1.3 and 2.1.4 call for students to engage global perspectives and to “implement initiatives that emphasize the personal and academic value of ethically engaging the world in its diversity and provide students with abundant opportunities to cross the borders of language and culture.” The Global Citizenship requirement encourages several such opportunities. By requiring college-level languages courses, most of which will be taken at Gustavus, we ensure that students are both translingual and transcultural. The G course, akin to our current GLOBL, allows students to engage non-US cultures and institutions in their own context, introducing different ways of living and modes of understanding, while also dealing globally with issues of power and inequality. ID courses introduce to diverse cultures, groups, and identities and their interrelations in the U.S. and encourage students to grapple with the issues of justice, equity, and power that directly frame US life. We believe translingual and transcultural competency, as well as knowledge of US and global affairs (and the relationship between them), are essential for all of our students, regardless of identity and background (1.1). 

Loose Ends

The committee is aware of loose ends including:

  • J-Term
  • Experience Credits
  • Transfer policy for general education credits


For a historically modest College, the commitment to “equip students to lead purposeful lives and to act on the great challenges of our time” is bold. We live in a world where talk of utility often has more purchase than does purpose and we cannot foresee the challenges for which we claim to prepare our students. We believe that this general education curriculum serves our bold commitment. From one end of campus to another, students will consider not only how things work and what they can do but whether they are good and who they are good for. Students will learn about living with the complexities of difference and gain skills in moving across barriers and boundaries. They will learn how people, both familiar and unfamiliar, have grappled with questions and they will practice some of the methods available for delving deeply into problems, questions, and mysteries. This curriculum does not give them everything they will need to know to face coming challenges, but it will give them the skills to continue learning and integrating all that they know. When they leave this campus, they will have practiced bringing together their skills, knowledge, ethical commitments, and understandings of justice to engage a question or challenge. As we stretch ourselves, we will model for them the power of lifelong learning and taking on the challenge of educating for the 21st century. Together, we hope to empower students with the skills, tenacity, and confidence to keep up this work, whatever their futures might hold. 

ACTS Information (For Reference)

Gustavus equips students to lead purposeful lives and to act on the great challenges of our time through an innovative liberal arts education of recognized excellence.

GOAL 1: Diversify and expand the Gustavus community. The College recognizes that the “who” of the Gustavus community must reflect the diversity of the world from which our students come and to which they will return, while the “what” of its academic offerings must prepare students for life and work in an ever more complex and interdependent world.

OVERARCHING STRATEGY 1: Build programs that reach and support more people while furthering the Gustavus mission and the Gustavus Acts vision.

Strategy 1.1 Create and maintain an inclusive and equitable campus. Design and implement institutional policies, procedures, and practices that support diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Strategy 1.2 Work toward fully meeting students’ demonstrated financial need. Procure additional endowed scholarship funds to improve financial aid for high ability/high economic need students, and explore additional revenue sources to support more students at Gustavus from diverse economic backgrounds.
Strategy 1.3 Identify, recruit, retain, and support cohorts of students currently underrepresented at the College. Create efficiencies of scale when designing and implementing strategies and services for targeted cohorts of students.
Strategy 1.4 Identify, develop, and deliver post-baccalaureate programs. Explore certificate, continuing education, and master’s degree programs in areas that draw on our strengths and meet market need

GOAL 2: Through a rigorous academic program of recognized excellence, the College will produce global citizens equipped with intellectual curiosity, analytical and problem solving skills, and well-developed ethical sensibilities to address the great challenges of professional and civic life. 

OVERARCHING STRATEGY 2: Create the Gustavus Acts learning environment. 

Strategy 2.1 Design, implement, evaluate, and maintain initiatives that further the curricular and co-curricular dimensions of the Gustavus Acts plan. 
2.1.1 Emphasize student initiative and intellectual risk-taking in academic discovery and exploration and the development of accurate self-knowledge.
2.1.2 Create a campus culture of intellectual engagement by developing, expanding, and supporting greater opportunities for research, scholarship, creativity, and dialogue. 
2.1.3 Support and facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration to address complex problems through innovative approaches, application of diverse and even divergent theoretical concepts and models, and global perspectives. 
2.1.4 Implement initiatives that emphasize the personal and academic value of ethically engaging the world in its diversity, and provide students with abundant opportunities to cross the borders of language and culture. 
2.1.6 Initiate and support collaborative, mutually beneficial, and reciprocal relationships between members of the College community and external partners who are addressing the great challenges of our time. 

*The writing requirement should be reviewed as the new curriculum becomes more concrete.