The Boston College academic experience is defined by a diverse and involved core curriculum, designed to encapsulate the creativity and complexity of a Jesuit education. Every student at BC will have to tackle philosophy, theology, natural science, mathematics, and many more different types of requirements despite their eventual choice of major. Yet, this concrete core curriculum, which has existed for over two and a half decades and rooted in close to half a millennium of Jesuit tradition, is in the process of adapting to the 21st century.
Over the last four years, BC has been making an effort to reform the core in order to teach students the value of exploring different fields of study within the context of the modern world.
These efforts are headed by a University Core Renewal Committee (UCRC) made up of professors, administrators, and a student representative from a wide range of departments from around the school, all of whom are committed to making the Core Curriculum more than just a set of requirements every BC grad must meet in order to process down Linden Lane one last time.
Beginning last year, the UCRC began to introduce new Pilot Courses that have quickly taken hold.
These Pilot Courses capitalize on the combination of departmental resources, bringing odd collaborations between specialities like English and chemistry, for example, or environmental science and philosophy.
Julian Bourg, the committee chairman, says the aim of the renewal process and introduction of Pilot Courses is to “create a structure where the boundaries of disciplines are broken down.”
Professor Bourg asserts that this is necessary considering that “complex problems cannot be tackled through the narrow lense of just one discipline.”
These Pilot Courses, while only targeted towards first-year students, have been growing rapidly in size, teaching around 750 students this year and aiming for 1000 by next year.
The structure of these Pilot Courses is also of interest, as all Pilot Courses are broken into two categories: Enduring Questions and Complex Problems.
Prof. Bourg contends that these are necessary to the UCRC’s goal for core renewal, maintaining that the Core should begin to “organize classes based on the questions [and problems] that we all care about."
Complex Problems Courses meet in lecture format with an additional reflection session in order for students to truly connect with the material and one another.
The UCRC believes that this formatting enhances the experience of a core requirement into an engaging conversation about the problem of climate change.
Prof. Bourg concludes by adding that within the value of a Boston College education, “[Specialization] is one piece, the second is a broad familiarity with ways of knowing yourself and the world, and the final piece is distinctive to Jesuit education being that students reflect and connect with their coursework."
The UCRC believes that enduring questions and complex problems-centered Pilot Courses, taught by two professors from seemingly incompatible departments, will open the door for freshmen to explore what makes contemporary higher education at BC so meaningful.
These new Pilot Courses will connect students from their current position in a preeminent Jesuit university in the 21st century to where they have yet to go in their intellectual pursuits.