SUNY Potsdam Faculty Develop ‘Potsdam Pathways’ General Education Curriculum, Prepare to Launch New Program
As students and faculty return for the fall semester at The State University of New York at Potsdam, major changes are underway to transform the College’s curriculum.
Following three years of study, the SUNY Potsdam Faculty Senate voted last spring to endorse a new general education program, which has now moved into the implementation phase. A task force and steering committee made up of faculty from across campus worked to develop the innovative new program, which they have titled Potsdam Pathways.
“We are proud that our faculty created a new general education program that highlights our strengths as a campus, particularly in applied learning, the arts, and diversity, equity and inclusion. Potsdam Pathways will give our students a rigorous liberal education, grounded in the arts and sciences, that will enable them to become competitive professionals and informed citizens,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Bette Bergeron.
The first new general education program at the College in 30 years, Potsdam Pathways will reflect the values of a strong liberal arts education, while integrating proven high-impact practices into the curriculum. Faculty have already begun teaching some of the foundation pilot courses, and more will be developed over the coming academic year, as the College takes the next steps to get the program in place.
“SUNY Potsdam’s new Pathways program is designed to prepare our students for the rigorous work environment of the 21st century, by transforming them into engaged lifelong learners with the basic skillsets necessary to thrive in a fluid and volatile workforce,” said Dr. David Curry, interim Potsdam Pathways director and a professor of philosophy at the College.
In May, after the Faculty Senate endorsed the program, Provost Bergeron formed a task force composed of administrators, faculty and staff from all corners of the College to determine a timeline for implementing the new core curriculum. An interim leadership team has now been appointed to begin the involved process of transitioning to the Potsdam Pathways curriculum.
Potsdam Pathways is divided into three sections: the Ways of Beginning, the Ways of Thinking and the Ways of Connecting.
Perhaps the most innovative part of the new program, the Ways of Beginning is comprised of three first-year seminar courses, one focused on developing critical thinking skills (WAYS 101), one on writing skills (WAYS 102) and one on speaking skills (WAYS 103). Through Potsdam Pathways, SUNY Potsdam will be the first comprehensive college in SUNY to institute first-year seminars, characteristic of small private liberal arts colleges. These high-impact seminars are designed to introduce students to a rigorous and demanding liberal arts curriculum, while providing the opportunity for students to work closely with a faculty mentor and establish a sense of community among participants.
The WAYS 101 Critical Thinking Seminar courses focus on significant and “messy” issues which the faculty experts who teach them are deeply engaged with. The pilot courses have included an array of topics to deliver instruction in basic critical thinking through different lenses. For example, Associate Professor of History Dr. Sheila McIntyre led a course titled “Satan in Salem, 1692,” looking at witchcraft in 17th century New England. Dr. Michael Rygel of the geology department piloted a course focused on climate science, “Burning Down the House: Energy, Carbon and Climate,” and Dr. Kelly Bonnar of the public health and human performance department developed a course titled “Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?,” which examined domestic abuse. With more than 25 different topics to choose from, all students will find a WAYS 101 seminar to engage and intrigue them.
Dr. Hadley Kruczek-Aaron, an associate professor of anthropology, led a WAYS 101 seminar course titled “When Monuments Fall: Public Memory and the Politics of the Past” as a pilot in Fall 2018. She shared that developing and teaching the course made her a stronger instructor, and benefited the students both academically and socially.
“I am confident that the [Critical Thinking] Seminar will be one of the most important foundational experiences in the new program. I was pleased to have widespread participation in the classroom as we debated highly sensitive political questions. And I was gratified to hear students express their appreciation for the respectful exchange of ideas that took place each week, and for the rigor of the class content over the course of the semester,” Kruczek-Aaron said. “Because it was a small group and because I advised many of them, I was able to learn more about the struggles that my students were experiencing as they adjusted to college life. I also observed them establishing friendships with each other (both through everyday classroom interactions and as a result of a series of field trips I organized). I am confident that both of these sets of relationships helped ease their transition to SUNY Potsdam.”
The WAYS 102 College Writing Seminar similarly draws on faculty expertise to teach basic college writing skills. The WAYS 103 Talking about Diversity Seminar exposes students to topics related to the diverse populations and social identities that characterize the U.S., while developing basic public speaking skills.
The Ways of Thinking segment of the program will introduce students to numerous disciplines, with foundation courses in history, philosophy, the humanities, mathematics, science, social science and the arts.
The Ways of Connecting segment is designed to help students integrate the knowledge and skills they have acquired through Potsdam Pathways into their major and minor programs. The WAYS 301 Connecting the Ways of Thinking Seminar will be a team-taught cross-disciplinary class, teaching students how to examine a central issue from multiple perspectives. Students will also complete a foreign language requirement, and coursework with a global/international focus.
Potsdam Pathways will culminate with a special senior-level Connecting Clearly: Communication in the Major course, designed to prepare students for the workforce or graduate studies—providing them with the skills specifically needed for professional writing and speaking in their chosen field of study. Potsdam Pathways will also include a capstone applied learning element, in which students will connect theory to practice, with the completion of an internship, creative project or research.
This fall, a Potsdam Pathways Curriculum Committee will be elected from the teaching faculty, and the intensive process of reviewing applications for new Pathways courses will begin. Every academic unit on campus will be challenged to rethink how they deliver not just the core curriculum, but their major coursework as well. WAYS courses will continue to be piloted throughout the year; the offices of the Registrar, Admissions and the Student Success Center, among others, will also be preparing to support the new program.
The goal is to launch the Pathways program for all incoming first-year students in the fall of 2020. The existing general education program will then slowly be phased out over the next four years, although current students will have the option to switch over to the new program under advisement.
For more information about Potsdam Pathways, visit https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/programs-study/potsdam-pathways.
About SUNY Potsdam:
Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit www.potsdam.edu.