University of Rochester

New Curriculum Wins Support From Two Major Foundations

February 23, 1996

Two major foundations have given funds to the University of Rochester to support development of the new undergraduate curriculum and a special category of classes called Quest Courses. The Fred L. Emerson Foundation in Auburn, NY has given the University a three-year, $300,000 grant, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, CA, has made a $100,000 award to the University.

The new curriculum at Rochester, approved last spring by the Faculty Council of the College, replaces distribution requirements with a new plan that lets students follow their interests, enjoy in-depth learning experiences, yet graduate with a well-rounded liberal arts education.

"The fundamental changes we are making in the way we teach Rochester undergraduates lets us prepare them in a way that a standard curriculum simply can't," said William S. Green, vice provost for educational planning. "The generous support of the Emerson and Hewlett foundations is a welcome vote of confidence in what we are doing."

Rochester's new curriculum capitalizes upon its strength as a research institution. It aims to make students active partners in learning rather than mere consumers of education by grounding instruction in the practices of faculty learning. "Researchers are the quintessential active learners, and know better than others how to make learning the habit of a lifetime," said Green. "We teach our students how to approach learning in the same ways that faculty do."

The structure of the new curriculum is elegantly simple. Students choose a major in one of the three major branches of learning: humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. They complete at least 10 semester courses in their major area of study. In addition, students select two "clusters" of courses in each of the two branches of learning outside the student's major. Each "cluster" is a group of three, linked classes.

Emerson Foundation funds will be used to support and develop the new "clusters" that form the backbone of the new curriculum. The award was offered as a challenge grant, meaning that the University will match Emerson funds either with new outside sources of funding, or with funds from the College's core budget.

The Hewlett Foundation funds support the development of a new breed of class called the "Quest" course. These first and second-year courses call upon students to work extensively with original materials and data. In the humanities, they study primary texts and materials, rather than textbooks. In the social sciences, they do research that yields new data or other techniques of social science research. In the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering, they generate and analyze new experimental data, rather than master predetermined techniques and protocols.

"Professors at research universities are often depicted as indifferent to undergraduate education, and research itself has been cast as the enemy of good undergraduate teaching," Green says. "We have turned our strength as a research institution into a plus: Our students will develop not just the ability to understand, but they will become proficient at in-depth learning."