Getting a taste of the complexities of a variety of disciplines encourages new skills.

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Historically, writing classes might’ve been focused on the mechanics of writing, such as proper punctuation and grammar or correct syntax. But today, a writing course can teach students how to think critically, investigate evidence and develop strong written arguments.

At some universities, the phrase “core curriculum” can mean studying particular texts considered fundamental. Others, like at Seattle University, take a related, but slightly different approach. “We couldn’t possibly teach everything students ought to know,” says Jeff Philpott, Seattle University’s director of the Core Curriculum. Instead, students are encouraged to “think like scholars.”

Getting a taste of the complexities of a variety of disciplines encourages new skills. Science majors who take an arts or humanities class are likely to strengthen their communications skills. And by the same token, arts or humanities majors can benefit from an understanding of basic science in order to recognize how those principles come into play in everyday life.

At Seattle U, it’s all part of Core classes. “We don’t teach writing in a vacuum,” says Philpott. “We still teach the mechanics and style of writing, but as part of a larger package where writing is a process, a way of engaging with a topic.”

Students entering as freshmen take 12 Core courses and a capstone course in their major. The Core develops strong academic skills such as critical reading, careful research and effective writing and speaking, along with the ability to analyze information across disciplines—even those outside a student’s intended major.

Classes examine subjects from different disciplines. For example, a global water–supply class may bring in perspectives from environmental engineering, philosophy and social justice as clean water access may depend on a person’s economic position.

And with this broader perspective, students gain opportunities to explore the world in new ways. “We put disciplines in conversation with each other,” Philpott says. As a result, students can look at any challenge and ask, “How does a historian think about this issue? How might an economist or political scientist think about this issue?”

This style of education is rooted in the Jesuit tradition that reaches back nearly 500 years, as Jesuit Catholic institutions value rigorous inquiry and intellectual skills at the core of the educational experience.

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