The CTI Program: Jewell’s take on a liberal arts education

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William Jewell College (WJC) currently follows a core-based general education system. This type of system organizes classes around the central issues of our contemporary world.

Dr. Gary Armstrong, associate dean for the Core Curriculum and professor of political science, said, “There are lots of colleges that have core-based general educations, but the way we do it is kind of unusual.”

A WJC education includes the Critical Thought and Inquiry (CTI) program. The College shifted to the CTI core-based system in 1995 and 1996.

Armstrong said the spur for change rested on thoughts such as, “What cool stuff could students do in this program if we changed it and brought more coherence to it?”

Thus, the CTI system was born.

The program’s aim for students to interact with the contemporary world and to challenge students to ask important and critical questions about our society. The requirements of the curriculum consist of three course levels.

The first CTI courses are the 100 level courses. Students generally take these courses during their first-year at WJC. There are three 100-level classes including a mathematics course, Responsible Self and Written Communication.

Responsible Self seems to be a course that stands out to students in their beginning years of the CTI program.

Dr. Randall Morris, CTI 100 course coordinator and professor of philosophy, said, “I look at it as an academic boot camp. Students are hit with it right away. It has a reputation of being a challenging course, and I hope that it is.”

CTI 100 Responsible Self aims to introduce students to what it means to behave responsibly and what it means to be a “self” according to four different world views. These four perspectives are explored by reading primary texts.

“What we hope it will do is encourage students initially to discover alternative ways of looking at the world and acquire some empathy for different perspectives; we are not asking students to agree with any of these world views, but to discover them and open their minds to consider alternative ways to what it means to be responsible,” said Morris.

WJC’s liberal arts model differs from a few other designs in that the courses presented in the program are intended to build upon each other.

“It [CTI 100] lays the groundwork for what courses do later. In particular, [we have] the idea to link courses vertically so later courses will later discuss the books and ideas that were presented in CTI 100,” said Morris.

After the first-level courses have been completed, Jewell students move on to level two. These classes are divided into four categories: Culture and Traditions; Sacred and Secular; Science, Technology and the Human Experience; and Power and Justice in Society. Students have various choices in second level courses. However, students must take at least one class in three of the four categories. The student’s major determines the omitted fourth section. The second-level classes range from Ethnobotany to Women’s Writers and World Literature.

Students complete the third-level of the CTI program their senior year. This level is known as the Core Capstone. In the capstone course, the students take on key issues of today’s world. Courses include topics like “Immigration: Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?” and “Capital Punishment.”

The CTI program integrates students from all majors into the same class in order for students to pool together knowledge from their various disciplines to solve real world issues.

“There are students from all over the College in those capstones together, trying to figure out some of the coolest and also wickedest questions that we face,” said Armstrong.

The CTI program aims to let students satisfy their own interests and provide an adequate challenge. One of the qualities of the CTI program is that it allows students that exert a little extra effort to add a secondary major to their resume. This is called the Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry (ACT-In) major.

“We are the only college in the nation, that we know of, that lets you get a major based in its general education,” said Armstrong.

To obtain an ACT-In major students must complete all three levels of CTI courses along with three projects that get students out of the classroom and into the world. The three categories that these projects must fall into include: reflective citizenship, disciplinary scholarship and active engagement. These activities could include internships or study abroad opportunites.

According to Armstrong, one-quarter of the graduating class from last year graduated with the ACT-In major.

The major encourages students to go off-campus and to learn in real-world environments in order for students to apply facts and knowledge so that they might evaluate problems our society faces.

In the future of the program, Armstrong hopes to see an increase in students implementing their lessons beyond the Jewell campus through civic engagement.

“Jewell is already good at getting people off the Hill and into the real world to apply what they are doing. What if we could learn how to do that a little more?” said Armstrong.

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