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The Core Curriculum

Courage and Curiosity begin in the Core

What is the Core Curriculum?

The founding faculty and student co-designers created the Core Curriculum in 2019 as a foundational introduction to the Fulbright education. All students take the same five multidisciplinary Core courses in their first year at the college to build their academic skills and join the Fulbright intellectual community. This shared five course sequence initiates all Fulbright students into new ways of thinking and learning.

All courses are team taught by dedicated faculty who encourage you to ask questions, make arguments, and take risks. Regardless of your background, everyone will encounter something unfamiliar and unknown in the Core and confront their own gaps– by design. Developing the capacity to grasp new modes of thought, transfer disciplinary knowledge, and work through ambiguity starts in the challenge of the Core. Curiosity, versatility, and resilience are the essential characteristics of a liberal arts education, and the unique beginning of the Fulbright educational journey.

After this broad preparation, you’ll be empowered with the confidence to pursue your own intellectual paths into the majors and beyond into a lifetime of learning.

The Core Curriculum: Structure and Support

In the Core, students and faculty engage in cross-disciplinary dialogues while enhancing essential academic skills. Global Humanities and Modern Vietnamese Culture and Society emphasize academic writing, critical reading, active listening, and collaborative discussion. Quantitative Reasoning introduces statistical awareness, data analysis, and basic coding, while Scientific Inquiry promotes a deeper understanding of scientific method and experimental design. Design and Systems Thinking, taught by Engineering faculty, guides you through a product design cycle to enhance real life problem solving and project management.

These courses are designed to be accessible to all students and enhance your awareness of different modes of thought and inquiry, many of which you will not have encountered before. Teaching faculty, peer tutors, and Learning Support specialists provide essential reinforcement for you through office hours, tutoring sessions, and dedicated workshops for each Core course.

Example first year course schedule

We offer a diverse variety of academic programes for students to explore during their time at Fulbright. At the end of their second year, each student selects a major and has the option of choosing a minor as well.

Students choose 4 courses per semester; Global Humanities must be taken in Semester 1.

The Core and Beyond: your Community of Learning

The Core prepares you to learn actively together: in small discussions, in shared projects, in group presentations, you’ll develop the skills to collaborate effectively. The shared base of knowledge from the Core courses will connect you to each other, and also to older students who have had the same Core experience. Exposure to a broad range of faculty from different disciplines enables you to choose Exploratory courses as you consider your Major decision at the end of the second year.
The Core unites all faculty and students in a shared experience of growth, discovery, and collaboration. This concentrated introduction to liberal arts education establishes the critical thinking approaches and solid skills foundation that enhance the unique Fulbright intellectual community. The questions, values, and capacities you’ll develop in the Core will sustain a journey of lifelong learning, and connect you to Fulbright faculty, students, and alumni over the generations.

Course Coordinators

Design and Systems Thinking

With us, you’ll learn across the Fulbright Core how transformations have happened in human history – transformations in thought, in social structures, and in individual lives. You’ll also see how transformations happen in nature and how human intervention transforms the natural world. But what about transformation that humans create through intentional design?

This might be a new mask that filters air in a superior manner, a drone that can deliver medicines to remote parts of the country faster than any vehicle, or an app that allows you to create new music depending on your mood.

In this course, we showcase how innovation is linked to rigorous scientific, mathematical, and engineering methods, with an emphasis on teamwork and hands-on experience. You may take this as an entry point into the deeper study of design and engineering, or apply what you learn in this introductory course to the understanding of social and economic systems, to creative fabrication in the fine arts, or to the design and development of a start-up company in collaboration with Fulbright’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

This course embraces both the art and science of creation, instilling the confidence to experiment, sometimes to fail, but ultimately to prevail in designing and building a better future.

Design and Systems Thinking introduces the principles, processes, and tools of systems thinking and design thinking that are used to identify and generate solutions to frictions in our society. The building blocks to understand systems and to approach the designing process include: how ethnographic observation can be used to frame and observe real-world challenges from the consumer’s perspective; an introduction to systems thinking to understand how challenges exist in a broader context; design thinking, enabling a structured approach to developing solutions and concepts; prototyping of physical products and designs; and key engineering concepts that enable concepts to become reality.

This course employs project-based learning among teams of students to identify problems, specify client, consumer, or societal needs, and design a system answering those needs. This process includes defining the product’s features and specifications, decomposing it into components, integrating it into an environment, building it, and then validating and verifying its results.

For example, teams may create elements of a smart home like automatic lighting and watering, or an Internet of Things (IoT) system for drought monitoring and early warning, or an automatic hand sanitizer. They will use modules, materials, tools, and facilities available in the market or in the Fulbright Maker Space to prototype these systems. In the process, they will develop a basic command of agile methods used in project management, learn basic modern fabrication skills, and practice critical thinking, including an understanding of constraints, negotiating between options, and examining social and environmental impact.

Students will be able to:

  • Articulate and show an understanding of the key design and engineering processes that have delivered some of the world’s most iconic products and solutions (e.g. the DJI Mavic Air drone, the Razer Basilisk, or the Tata Nano).
  • Identify and set in context some of Vietnam’s design innovations (e.g. the Zalo app or the VinFast Luxe).
  • Understand and practice the tools and principles of system thinking (e.g. the Iceberg model) and design thinking.
  • Use a structured approach to identify and explain a market friction and an associated opportunity.
  • Define the requirements of potential solutions and the quantitative and qualitative specifications of a system, with consideration for technical, safety, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors.
  • Decompose a system into deterministic components, explain the functions of each component separately, explain how the components interact with each other and behave when integrated as a whole system.
  • Analyze how a system works within its environment.
  • Build a working prototype for a designed system based on the modules and materials available in the market.
  • Make decisions based on engineering judgement when encountering uncertainty or the need for tradeoffs, i.e. when several options or solutions are available.
  • Develop and conduct appropriate experimentation and then analyze results to verify whether a prototyped system meets defined requirements and specifications.

Global Humanities

Across time and geographies, humans have drawn upon arts and literature to make sense of the world we live in. Global Humanities is a brief introduction to texts which have helped shape human consciousness and history. Within the limitations of the semester and the wealth of texts available, we consider important ideas, arguments, and periods in global history. The first unit, “Classical Epistemologies” looks at early inquiries into what is knowledge, and how we know what we know. The second unit, “Power, and the Making of the Modern World” looks to the often unequal reshaping of social and political boundaries in the age of nation building, colonization. The third unit, “Making the Future” draws attention to how authors have considered the world we have built and are continuing to build, and how to do better moving forward. In addition to reading important texts and films, students will be introduced to and trained in a wide variety of academic skills which are essential for their future journey at Fulbright and beyond.

  • Reading Skills: Develop skills in reading texts, including the ability to: read texts critically, charitably, and with awareness of historical context.
  • Writing Skills: Develop skills in academic writing such as: writing a successful thesis statement, structuring an essay with an introduction, body, and conclusion, and using relevant textual evidence to support one’s arguments in the form of quotes.
  • Oral Communication Skills: Develop oral communication skills including: active listening, articulation and justification of one’s ideas.
  • Cultivating an appreciation for intellectual exploration, intellectual community, and applying diverse ideas to one’s own life.

Modern Vietnamese Culture and Society

This course invites you to discover a wide array of ideas, issues, and perspectives encountered in modern Vietnam, ranging from socio-cultural, politico-economic aspects to questions of nationalism, international relations, and globalization when examining the country in its regional and global contexts.
Throughout the course, you’ll be introduced to basic concepts in the social sciences and humanities that will illuminate your social environments as well as urge you to assess others’ interpretations with an open, but critical mind. The course will raise your socio-political awareness and cultural identity, encouraging engaged citizenship within local, regional, and global communities.

Students will be able to:

  • Form a multidimensional view of contemporary Vietnam and its past using the foundational methods and concepts of history, literature, philosophy, and political science.
  • Understand Vietnamese culture and society in Vietnam and beyond with an open, but critical mind.
  • Identify problems critically from multiple discourses, form strong arguments based on substantial evidence, and solve the identified problems using logic, analysis, and interpretation.
  • Conduct an appropriate research project independently or with a team.
  • Present the results of the research project convincingly and creatively in various formats, such as written essays, oral presentations, film, and website design.
  • Recognize and respect the diversity of communities and cultures within Vietnam.
  • Strengthen civic identity as both an engaged citizen of Vietnam and the world.

Quantitative Reasoning For A Digital Age

Digital technology transforms how we live: from how we travel, to what we use for money, to how we swipe to find love. At the heart of these social, cultural, and economic changes lie mathematics and computer science. But how do we gather the information, interpret the data, and construct the algorithms that drive these advances and affect our lives?

Quantitative Reasoning in a Digital Age not only develops foundational skills in mathematics and computer science, but demonstrates how computer programming and algorithmic thinking inform issues in fields as diverse as economics, psychology, history, and philosophy. Structured around project-based teamwork, you’ll examine how the toolkit of computational thinking can model human behavior and address real-world problems in business, education, public health, government, and other sectors.

By understanding how quantitative reasoning affects modern society and modern society often affects our quantitative reasoning, you’ll learn to question your own assumptions about data big and small and think critically about the abundance of quantitative information that defines the decisions we make.

Quantitative Reasoning in a Digital Age will provide you with literacy in quantitative methods, statistical and algorithmic reasoning, and the fundamentals of computer programing. Working in teams, you’ll explore how mathematical models represent human behavior, test these models by designing research questions and gathering data, and learn to evaluate data and identify patterns within wider social contexts.

Using these skills, you’ll develop robust habits of mind and apply them to other disciplines, construct and critically analyze evidence-based arguments using numbers and learn first-hand both the power and the limitation of using quantitative reasoning in a modern world.

Students will be able to:

  • Formulate research questions and collect appropriate data to address these questions.
  • Critically examine and identify patterns in quantitative data.
  • Clearly communicate quantitative information.
  • Effectively work in teams.

Scientific Inquiry

From the smallest atom to the most distant star, what do we know about our universe, and how do we know it? Scientific Inquiry unlocks the door to discovery and explores how humans acquired our fundamental knowledge of the sciences.
This course introduces you to the scientific method through engagement with groundbreaking experiments from the likes of Galileo, Newton, and Pavlov and provides hands-on experience with projects that reflect everyday, real-world problems relevant to fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, and neuroscience.
Through this project and inquiry-based approach to answering scientific questions across the various disciplines of the natural sciences, we will understand how to make, interpret, and challenge scientific claims rigorously and responsibly. Creating connections across the Fulbright core curriculum, this course emphasizes how scientific inquiry informs public debates past and present, challenging you not only to understand the world from a scientific perspective, but also to understand how our scientific perspective is shaped and informed by the world.

Scientific Inquiry introduces you to the world of science through real-life applications of the scientific method. By engaging foundational texts and practices from across biology, chemistry, and physics, you’ll understand the various processes involved in acquiring scientific knowledge and how these processes are applied to contemporary scientific questions.
Throughout the course, you’ll investigate the major questions specific to different scientific fields, make distinctions between scientific and non-scientific knowledge, design research questions and hypotheses, test their claims in project-based collaborative experiments, and convey your results in written reports and oral presentations.

Students will be able to:
Demonstrate understanding of the historical development of key scientific ideas through written communication;
Demonstrate ability to critically evaluate scientific claims through written and/or spoken communication;
Demonstrate ability to apply the process of scientific inquiry through forming scientific questions & hypotheses as well as collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and reporting data;
Demonstrate basic competence in quantitative data analysis by applying the relevant skills to a project.
Understand the commonalities and differences between science and other areas of culture.

Featured Fulbrighters

Voices from our majors

“One of the aims of Global Humanities is to de-exceptionalize the Vietnamese experience by showing our students how similar the experiences of very different people have been around the world and throughout time. Our students can build empathy with other cultures and see the shared human experience of change.”
Dr. Andrew Bellisari, a faculty member in History and one of the main instructors of this course.
“The Scientific Inquiry course is more about scientific thinking than the specific disciplines of natural sciences. Since for me, scientific methods are the key to this course, I am flexible about the research areas students choose for their projects, as long as they can demonstrate understanding and application of the method.”
Nguyen Thi Trang, Course Coordinator for Scientific Inquiry
“I realize that my knowledge about the Vietnamese culture and society needs to be challenged, as it is still limited. This course encourages me to seek new knowledge, new concepts. At the same time, it helps me realize the national identity that defines Vietnamese people. It’s important to understand that national identity. And I realize I won’t be lost in this modern world.”
Quach Minh Phat, Student of Class 2024
“Not your typical engineering class. There was no rigid structure to follow. Instead, things were very flexible, focused more on self-exploration. Specific fields of knowledge, or task forces, were assigned to be peer-taught. The instructors did not tell us what to do or what to think, but rather encouraged us to learn the techniques by ourselves.”
Thái Thanh Mi, Student of Class 2023

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