February 18, 2022

The Core Curriculum: A unique feature of Fulbright

February 18, 2022

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 designed and revised to be adaptable to trends and challenges in global higher education, while staying rooted in the Vietnamese context.

Developing practical and fundamental skill sets

Compared to previous generations, students today 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, incorporating STEM subjects that are in high demand. At Fulbright, the core curriculum consists of five courses that extend across multiple disciplines, 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, but about developing 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 subjective biases, and to work as a team. These skills allow them to make 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 how to put on the thinking hat of a scientist, how to think like a scientist, how to understand what scientific data means or how scientific knowledge is generated,” says former faculty member Dr. Samhitha Raj, one of the four faculty members who developed the course. Through collaborative projects, students 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 also nurture a better understanding of their surroundings and empathy for those 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 introduces students to significant works of literatary expression across philosophy, the arts, and religion. Students are guided through evolutions of thought, and how those have brought about transformation and have shaped perception in the contemporary world. It also provides a chance for students to respond to each other’s ideas in group conversations, allowing them to develop a more balanced point of view and to become more accepting of different perspectives.

Correspondingly, Design and Systems Thinking aims to help student identify and propose methods of problem solving in society today. 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 society; or how to make decisions based on technical judgment when several options or solutions are available.

A dilemma for students who pursue international programs is that they might feel disconnected from their own country, and have a hard time relating what they have learned to the Vietnamese context. One of Fulbright’s core courses, Modern Vietnamese Culture & Society addresses this issue. As a deep dive into the historical, cultural, social, economic and even political dimensions of modern and contemporary Vietnam, this course helps students explore Vietnamese identity and how to situate Vietnam in the region and in the world. With an open and critical mind, students develop unique ways to contribute to their community in meaningful 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 had found employment, and only 11% were thriving in all elements of personal wellbeing: social, physical, financial, community and purpose. It also revealed that graduates enjoyed significantly higher chances of having profitable jobs and fulfilling lives if well-prepared for life after graduation.

Such preparation is what Fulbright strives to deliver. After students finish their studies here, the takeaways gleaned 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 processes have shaped humanity today. And as the world evolves, and new forms of knowledge will emerge, graduates cannot succeed without the skills of critical thinking and logical reasoning, proficiency in problem-solving, highly developed interpersonal skills, and the desire to be a life-long learner.

Despite the two years of core and exploratory curriculum required before declaring a major, it is possible that later down the road, students may still want or need to alter their chosen 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 these cases, such foundational knowledge and skills will support graduates’ transitions, enabling them to adapt more quickly to new environments. Given this foundation, they can effectively acquire new skills and knowledge, and continue to learn and improve. But most importantly, they will face challenges with confidence and courage. “They should be brave, without being afraid of something they haven’t tried,” according to Dr. Tran Vinh Linh, one of the three faculty members teaching Quantitative Reasoning.

Anh Thu

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