Understanding Connections with Professor Hammond

Throughout the academic year, Connecticut College has been working on the implementation of the new “Connections curriculum,” continuing a years long process of curriculum revision. Starting with students matriculating this fall, the curriculum will transform the way in which students complete their general education requirements and encourage them to understand the links between the courses outside and inside their major.

According to Christopher Hammond, Associate Dean of the College for Curriculum and Associate Professor of Mathematics, “the inspiration for a lot of what goes into the Connections program is what’s been working well at the college, and one of the main components of that would be the center certificate programs, so one of the things we heard talking to students years ago was that the students who were involved in the center certificate programs view that as a fundamental, highly valuable part of their education and the faculty was looking for ways to try to spread some of those benefits more broadly around the student body.” He also states that, “it’s going to take the center certificate programs, which have always been a little bit of an add-on, though a very good one, and make them central in the college’s curriculum.”

Connections attempts to bring the center certificate experience to everyone through the integrative pathway, where students take courses on a certain theme in various departments as part of their general education. Each pathway is devoted to a theme that students will investigate in the courses they take for that pathway. According to Hammond, “You might study public health from a scientific perspective, a social scientific perspective, an artistic perspective, a humanistic perspective, and so on.”

Hammond notes that because the certificate programs, which also count as pathways, are seen as highly successful, the curriculum is being built around them. For example, the target time for students to enter a pathway is early in their sophomore year because that is when the center application process begins. He thinks that, in the future, centers may change a little to reflect the pathways and that the pathways will gain a lot of inspiration from the centers.

Hammond estimates that, in addition to the four center certificate programs, fifteen pathways will be needed to accommodate all students. He states, “we want to have enough pathways that everybody can do one, but also that there’s enough variety that everybody will want to do one.” He hopes the college will be able to approve five per year with the first five, “Eye of the Mind: Interrogating the Liberal Arts, Global Capitalism and its Consequences, Peace and Conflict, Social Justice as Sustainability, and Public Health” scheduled for approval on May 4. Others in the works include ones on city schools and “global New London.”

Next fall’s incoming students are not required to complete a pathway; they can just complete Connections’ five modes of inquiry in the same way that current students complete seven general education areas. However, the idea behind Connections is that students will not take a hodgepodge of courses to complete their requirements. Instead, they will integrate the modes of inquiry into their work in the pathway, which is why students in pathways are required to take four modes of inquiry, with at least three completed as part of the pathway.

The main reason for not immediately requiring students to complete a pathway is that there may not be enough pathways developed in time to support all members of the classes of 2020 and 2021. The college will also have time to work out any problems that may arise. Hammond notes that the way these two classes take advantage of the curriculum will influence how it will work when the pathways become mandatory, noting that “in some ways we need to have a little bit of experience before we make this mandatory for everybody.”

Unlike majors, pathways do not require students to take upper level courses; a pathway could be completed entirely at the introductory levels. There is also a rule that courses taken for a pathway cannot have more than one prerequisite. Advising for students is also likely to be less formal; Hammond hopes that each pathway’s thematic inquiry, the “gateway course” to the pathway, will allow students to outline what they want to do in the pathway, which will in essence be their advising. Students in pathways may also meet again in their junior years for some form of team advising.

The college hopes that in the fall of the students’ senior year, each student will take a two credit seminar as part of their pathway that will prepare them to present at the all-college symposium, which Hammond describes as being “referred to jokingly as the Floralia of the mind.” It is a day without classes when seniors in pathways get to present their research. It will also serve as a recruiting tool for pathways. “One of the things I found most impressive [as an undergraduate student]” recounts Hammond “was seeing older students doing something that I couldn’t do or hadn’t done yet.” He hopes the first symposium will occur in November 2019 although smaller versions may be attempted beforehand.

In addition to pathways, the first-year seminar program is also getting a revamp with changes implemented this year that included team advising and a common hour during which all seminars met. Hammond notes that the college is “working on trying to refine the way that works because it wasn’t an unambiguous success. There’s going to be a bit more flexibility for instructors in terms of how the common hour works. Before instructors were told this is what you’re doing on common hour today, and now there’ll be more of a sort of menu of options available to the instructors.” Future students will also be required to take two semesters of classes in a single language. They can also earn a special designation on their transcripts if they achieve advanced proficiency in a language and apply it in some way.

Current students already getting some of the benefits from the new curriculum. This year they have been eligible  to take ConnCourses, a new type of introductory course that is designed for a more general audience, and in the future they may be able to take the integrative pathways’ thematic inquiry courses (without officially enrolling in the pathway). These courses may be offered as early as Spring 2017.

Future students will be required to take at least one ConnCourse. While current students are already taking ConnCourses, their place in Connections will  lay the groundwork for the work students will do in their integrative pathways. In essence, professors teaching ConnCourses will set an example for the kind of interdisciplinary work that students will be doing in later semesters. Hammond notes that ConnCourses are “the only situation I’m aware of anywhere at the college where in order to get a course approved a faculty member has to participate in a very detailed workshop process with faculty members from other departments because right now most courses are just proposed by a faculty member within the department.”