Gen Ed Classes: A Lot of Learning, A Little Bit of Fun

March 21, 2012 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Twice a year, I find myself staring at my computer screen feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed.

When it comes time to schedule classes, I’m always intimidated by eLion’s lists and lists of courses. That’s what happens when you go to a school with 40,000 students and more than 160 majors. I’m usually fine with classes in my areas of study (journalism and English), but general education courses are a different story. There simply are too many. Some seem intriguing; some, not so much.

Gen-ed requirements have changed a lot over the years: Now, all baccalaureate degree programs include a 45-credit gen-ed component, including three credits in health and physical activity, nine credits in natural science, six credits in art, six credits in humanities, and six credits in social and behavioral sciences.

So as students begin to schedule for fall 2012, I took a look at some of Penn State’s more interesting gen-ed courses. I begin with a class I took last year—a class where SpongeBob appears on the syllabus.

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Course: Geosci 040: The Sea Around Us

Requirement satisfied: GN (Natural Science)

Why I took it: I’m not a science person at all. I had to late drop meteorology my freshman year (who knew predicting weather included calculus?) and needed an easier science class to take.

Interesting assignment: Once, we reported to the HUB-Robeson Center for class. Our lab that day consisted of analyzing the aquarium on the bottom floor. I had no idea there was such an intricate ecosystem living just 100 feet away from Sbarro’s. The most interesting aspect, to me, was that the 500-gallon tank has a self-regulated lighting system, which gets dark at night to mimic the real ocean.

What I got out of it: A new appreciation for beaches and environmentalism. When I visited Cape Cod last summer, I had a hard time looking at the dunes without thinking about how big they once were, and how they got there.

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Course: CMLIT 120: The Literature of the Occult

Requirement satisfied: GH (Humanities)

Interesting assignment: Read the third installment of the Harry Potter series.

What you can get out of it: “In all honesty, an appreciation for the Harry Potter series,” says Alexa Agugliaro, who says she wasn’t on the J.K. Rowling bandwagon before enrolling in the course. “There are a lot of major drabby classes that people have to take while they’re here, so why not, if you have the room, take a cool class about like vampires and monsters.” It’s not all Harry Potter and Twilight, though. Agugliaro wrote her final term paper on the witches in Macbeth.

Side note: Agugliaro says the teacher wore a wizard hat and a robe every day and had a magic wand.

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Course: KINES 028: Fencing

Requirement satisfied: GHA (Health and Physical Activity)

Interesting assignment: Just fence. Senior Matt Giacometti said there’s not much variety to the course, but he doesn’t mind. Students participate in basic drills, then fence each other. “It’s fun,” Giacometti says. “Exactly what you want from the class.”

What you can get out of it: “A ton,” Giacometti says. “I’m learning from coaches that have succeeded at the highest level. These guys have coached Olympians.” Giacometti’s professors for the course? Assistant coaches with the Penn State varsity fencing team—a program with 12 national championships and more than 170 All-Americans in the last 28 years. Did you know that Suzie Paxton ’93, a former Nittany Lion fencer and 1996 Olympian, started fencing in this gym class?

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Course: Applied Linguistics 100

Requirement satisfied: GS (Social and Behavioral Sciences)

Interesting assignment: During one class, the students were asked to think of as many examples of semantic word as they could. As junior Jackie Giraldo recalls, “That was the first time I ever heard the word yinz,” Giraldo says.

What you can get out of it: Says Giraldo: “I learned how language has evolved over time, but also got a deeper look at how words have evolved, how syntax has evolved, and why things are said different ways in different places. I definitely have a new appreciation of communication of different cultures.”

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Course: INART 115: Popular Music in America

Requirement satisfied:  GA (Arts)

Interesting assignment: Students were required to participate in online discussions. One debate revolved around who is the most influential musician today, with one student making a good case that the answer was definitively Lady Gaga.

What you can get out of it: “I now understand the hardships that a lot of musicians had to endure in the past in great music from that, era like the jazz and blues,” junior Jared Cruz says. “And it also influenced the development of music nowadays.”

 Emily Kaplan, intern

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