October 7, 2020

The Core Curriculum: A unique feature of Fulbright

October 7, 2020

At Fulbright, students begin their studies by gaining a range of knowledge and skills through a set of compulsory core courses. The core curriculum is a common trait of American liberal arts institutions, yet at Fulbright, it is intricately designed and revised to be the most adaptive to global education trends and challenges, all while staying rooted to the Vietnamese context.

Practical fundamentals

Compared to previous generations, students nowadays place more importance on career preparation. According to Arthur Levine, the former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, “They’re much more pragmatic. They say their primary reason for going to college is to get training and skills that will lead to a job, and let them make money.” This preference is one of the driving forces of 21st century education. A survey commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) suggests that in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced economy, well-paid jobs require both specific knowledge in a field of study and a broad range of interdisciplinary skills – some of which are notably well developed through liberal arts education.

Humanities, arts, and social sciences were traditionally considered the heart of the liberal arts. Modern institutions, however, have adopted much more comprehensive programs, with a new emphasis on highly-demanded STEM subjects. At Fulbright, the core curriculum consists of five courses that extend across multiple scientific areas, introducing students to a multi-dimensional worldview and preparing them for their future academic and professional journeys. These courses include Scientific Inquiry, Quantitative Reasoning for a Digital Age, Design and Systems Thinking, Global Humanities and Social Change, and Modern Vietnamese Culture and Society.

For the Fulbright core curriculum, it is not just about the content itself, it is about developing some key academic skills and mindsets for students. For example, Quantitative Reasoning for a Digital Age gives students basic mathematical and computational tools to solve problems, but the goal is not necessarily to educate future mathematicians or data scientists. Instead, students learn to think logically, to observe phenomena through the lens of numbers, to break away from any subjective biases they might have had, and to work as a team. These skills allow them to make better, evidence-based judgments and communicate more effectively in a workplace.

Likewise, Scientific Inquiry is an exploration into the world of natural sciences. “It’s not really about physics, biology, chemistry, or anything in particular, it’s more skill-based than content-based. What we want the students to learn is to put on the thinking hat of a scientist, to think like a scientist, to understand what scientific data means or how scientific knowledge is generated,” says Dr. Samhitha Raj, one of the four faculty members in charge of this course. Through collaborative projects, students get to practice collecting, analyzing and interpreting data, as well as critically evaluating scientific claims.

The core curriculum aims to develop key academic skills and mindsets for students.

Engaged, informed, and mindful citizens

Not only are students equipped with pragmatic skills, they are also nurtured to become better human beings that can understand their surroundings and have empathy for people around them. By studying with classmates from diverse backgrounds, with varied strengths and interests, students learn to discuss different opinions in a respectful manner.

Global Humanities and Social Change examines key moments in global history and exposes students to literature, philosophy, religion and arts compositions. Students are guided through the evolution of ideas, and how those ideas bring about transformation and shape perception in the contemporary world. It also provides a chance for students to critique one another’s perspectives in group conversations, allowing them to have a more balanced point of view and become more accepting of each other.

Correspondingly, Design and Systems Thinking aims to help student identify and resolve frictions in our society. The course introduces them to an array of tools, principles and processes, such as how to identify and explain a market friction and an associated opportunity; how to build a prototype that serves a certain purpose for the society; or how to make decisions based on engineering judgment when several options or solutions are available.

A dilemma of students who pursue international programs is that they could feel disconnected to their own country, and have a hard time applying what they have learned to the Vietnamese context. One of Fulbright’s core courses, Modern Vietnamese Culture & Society is the antidote to this problem. A deep-dive into modern day Vietnam’s issues, from historical, cultural, social, economic and even political aspects, this course helps learners fathom the Vietnamese identity, and from that Vietnam’s position in the region and in the world. With an open and critical mind, students would have the momentum to make meaningful contributions to their community, in their own ways.

 The foundations for lifelong learning

In 2014, a Gallup survey attempted to examine “the relationship between the college experience and whether college graduates have great jobs and great lives”. Their findings were somber. Only 39% of graduates were engaged at work, and only 11% were thriving in all elements of personal wellbeing: social, physical, financial, community and purpose. It is also revealed that graduates enjoy significantly higher chance of having profitable jobs and fulfilling lives if university prepares them well for life after graduation.

Such preparation is what Fulbright strives to deliver. After students finish studying here, takeaways from the core curriculum will remain advantageous throughout their lives. Facing a future of change and uncertainty, one can only stay ahead if they understand history and what shaped humanity today. And as the world evolves, new knowledge will emerge, graduates cannot succeed without critical and logical thinking, problem-solving proficiency, interpersonal skills and a curious mindset to never cease learning.

Even though they spent two years learning extensive courses before deciding on a major, it is possible that later down the road, they might want or need to alter their paths. In fact, a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27 percent of college graduates work in a field related to their major. With data from 125 million professional profiles, Emsi, a labor market analytics firm also concludes that “the typical path is more of a swirl than a straight line”.

In case of such career changes, the foundational knowledge would help with graduates’ transition, supporting them to adapt more quickly to the new environment. From a solid base, they will easily stack on new skills and knowledge, keep learning and improving themselves. But most importantly, they will face challenges with a confident and courageous attitude. “They should be brave, without being afraid of something they haven’t tried,” Dr. Tran Vinh Linh, one of three lecturers of Quantitative Reasoning asserts.

Anh Thư

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