January 19, 2018

Georgetown Offers Climate Change-Themed Path to Completing Core Requirements

Georgetown’s Designing the Future(s) Initiative launched Core Pathways in fall 2017, providing undergraduate students the opportunity to fulfill core and elective requirements by combining custom modules that examine a single global challenge from the perspective of various academic disciplines. Climate change is the focus of the first pathway.

Georgetown Offers Climate Change-Themed Path to Completing Core Requirements

A logical first pathway given the primacy and proliferation of the topic, climate change requires an interdisciplinary understanding that addresses the multidimensional nature of its causes and consequences. David Larsen (COL’20), who last semester took Climate, Water, and People and The Ethics of Climate Change, enrolled in Core Pathways seeking a more comprehensive understanding of the issue.

“I knew what climate change was and that taking care of the earth was the right thing to do, but I was never taught in an academic setting why climate change was happening and what our obligation was, as humans, to fix it,” he said. “I was hoping Core Pathways would be able to change that.”

A Pathway for Core Requirements

Thirteen faculty members have signed on to teach seven-week, 1.5 credit modules in the 2017-2018 school year. The program’s approximately 100 students can take up to four distinct modules per year across disciplines. Distinct from a traditional major, minor, or certificate, Core Pathway modules can be mixed and matched over two years to satisfy up to four core or elective requirements around one specific global topic.

“I would like students to learn that courses taken outside of their chosen discipline need not consist of a disparate set with the sole goal of satisfying an academic requirement,” said Rhonda Dzakpasu, an associate professor in the Department of Physics who teaches Physics of Climate Change for Core Pathways. “Having a core pathway allows students to experience learning about a multifaceted global problem where challenges due to the richness of the complexities of life come alive.”

In addition to facilitating a thematic bridge within Georgetown’s liberal arts curriculum, Core Pathways features several integrative components to complement classroom learning. Students can stay connected through a “virtual commons,” and all core pathway students come together multiple times a semester for an integrated event. Core Pathways partners with other organizations on campus to help administer hands-on tutorials and simulations, such as the Kennedy Institute of Ethics’ “Integrated Ethics Day,” which helped students appreciate the ethical frameworks surrounding the topic of carbon emissions.

Holistic Perspective

Predicated on the idea that climate change requires critical engagement from all academic perspectives, students receive instruction on the issue across disciplines. Nathan K. Hensley, an assistant professor in the Department of English and professor of Genres of the Anthropocene, described how the humanities are intertwined with the response to scientific phenomena like climate change.

“It's a crisis that touches everything, and needs to be dealt with that way,” he said. “And since the humanities are the fields that understand most acutely that real problems do not require merely technical solutions, but moral and social and indeed political ones, the humanities are absolutely central to thinking about climate change now.”

Rev. Christopher Steck, S.J., an associate professor in the Department of Theology who teaches Theology of the Environment and Animals and the Environment for Core Pathways, stressed how the program’s structure gives students the tools to approach complex issues more effectively.

“I am absolutely convinced, based in part on my own experiences, that the most effective way for students to address whatever problems they face now and in the future–whether personally, professionally, or as socially-responsible citizens of our world–is to bring together organically and holistically a diverse set of skills and perspectives,” he said.

Future Pathways

Like many Designing the Future(s) Initiative projects, Core Pathways is still in its pilot phase. However, Core Pathways faculty coordinator Randall Amster hopes the program can apply its critical and constructive approach to even more pressing global challenges.

“There are certainly a plethora of ‘wicked’ problems confronting us today, from endemic poverty and inequality to emerging challenges with technology,” he said. “Future pathways will engage these complex questions in the classroom, while further striving to bring the collective expertise of the university to bear on today's most pressing concerns in a multidisciplinary, dynamic manner that balances critical inquiry with constructive innovation.”

In the meantime, Core Pathways gives students the opportunity to explore their interests and ability to break down complex global ideas. Isabel Paret (COL’20) explained how participating in Core Pathways has influenced her studies.

“As someone interested in government and international affairs, I believe the skills gained in this pathway will prove useful throughout my course of study,” she said. “Not only is environmental policy relevant and a new personal point of interest, studying the disagreements has taught me how to notice interdisciplinary relationships on one individual subject.”