Old dog, new tricks

General education (GE), also known as the unavoidable units to some UC Davis students, is something that we all must complete and poses a unique opportunity to study interesting topics.

Ever since the requirements changed two years ago for all UC Davis students entering in or after Fall Quarter 2011, understanding the transition from the old “GE two” to the new “GE three” has been confusing for a large part of the UC Davis community.

“When the new GEs came out for the advisors, it was very difficult for us as advisors to implement them,” said Kate Shasky, undergraduate adviser in chemical engineering and materials science. “I can only imagine the frustration and confusion the students might have.”

For the previous GE two, students were expected to complete a certain amount of classes, rather than a set number of units. Also, taking a course for pass/no pass was not an option under GE two, unlike the new requirements.

“Because GE three allows for pass/no pass, students are allowed to take a lot of classes they really like without feeling the pressures of a grade holding them on,” said second-year communication and psychology double major Kenny Tran. “Whereas in GE two, even though it’s much smaller, students aren’t really able to take classes of interest without them feeling like it’s not going to anything.”

Both GE two and three include a topical breadth section that includes requirements in arts and humanities, science and engineering and social sciences. A minimum of 52 units is needed in this area for the GE three, as opposed to nine classes for GE two.

A core literacies section was added only to GE three as part of the change, and totals to 35 units. There are four parts within this area, including requirements in literacy with words and images, civic and cultural literacy, quantitative literacy and scientific literacy.

“Professors wanted their classes to be included in the GEs,” said fourth-year science and technology studies major Lexi Farris. “They wanted student experiences to be more enriched, and want to make sure you are really well-rounded here at UC Davis.”

In order for students to finish their requirements on time, the university allows “double-dipping” between the topical breadth and core literacies sections, or using one GE class to fulfill two requirements. However, double dipping is not allowed within each section.

An example of this is Anthropology 2: Cultural Anthropology, which fulfills requirements in social sciences within the topical breadth and in the core literacies section.

“Think of the topical breadth areas as different ice cream flavors, and the core literacies areas as toppings,” Tran said. “Your ice cream cone can only hold one scoop of ice cream and one topping. If you have two flavors, it’ll fall over.”

Since those under the GE three requirements are expected to complete more units than previous years, many students found it difficult to manage their major requirements with GEs when the changes were implemented.

“Depending on the major, it’s an added workload,” Shasky said. “It makes completing a degree in time for engineering students much more difficult.”

Shasky said she sees students every day that are nervous about not finishing the GE requirement in time to graduate.

“I always recommend summer school if you want to guarantee graduation in four years, because that’s the best way to ensure it,” Shasky said. “GEs are a great thing to take during the summer because there is lots of variety in Davis, community college or abroad.”

Although student difficulties may have increased with the new GE three, many people think the benefits of the change outweigh the negatives.

“I am jealous of the new one because I feel like students have more opportunities to take fun classes,” Farris said. “I felt like the courses they wanted you to take were limited, but I feel like now you can take courses that are more tailored to your needs.”

Tran said he likes being on GE three requirements because it allows him to expand his horizons and take classes that he wouldn’t normally take.

“I think people are so concentrated in one area that they don’t get to see the context of what they are studying,” Farris said. “[GE three] gives students more flexibility, helps students explore things and it’s good to be knowledgeable.”

In a technical light, the broadness of the new GE requirements is also beneficial to students.

“Some of our major requirement courses count towards GE, so that’s helpful,” Shasky said. “Some of the units will actually be fulfilled by the major requirements.”

Major classes aside, UC Davis offers some interesting classes for students to fulfill the new GE requirements.

Plant Sciences 49: Organic Crop Production Practices, is a three-unit class for science and engineering GE credit that allows students to experience the garden firsthand with a variety of fieldwork days.

Another popular science and engineering class is Applied Biological Systems Technology 49: Field Equipment Operation (commonly referred to as farm tractors and equipment). The class has a cap at eight students, so older students have higher chances of getting in.

Comparative Literature 6: Myths and Legends is a larger class in which students read and analyze ancient stories. This class is particularly beneficial because it is a double-dipper for arts and humanities with either world cultures or writing experience requirements.

Other interesting classes for GE credit include Food Science and Technology 10, Science and Society 40 and Anthropology 32. Classics 30: Word Roots is now offered for arts and humanities credit under the new GE three.

“[Classics 30] really helped me break down words and I think that’s an important skill to have while you’re at UC Davis,” Farris said. “For academic scientific literature, you can run into large words and won’t have to go to a dictionary.”

Tran said that he enjoyed Film Studies 1 because it was something different from his normal major classes, something he said is important to do, along with taking classes you find interesting.

“This is your only chance to take fun classes that are completely random, and you can only do that with GE courses,” Farris said. “So have fun and take your time with it.”

Shasky said that GEs can be a break from your normal workload, something that allows you to explore a different subject without any restrictions.

“Engineering students might find some relief for taking a course in music, art, health or sociology,” Shasky said. “Overall, GEs are beneficial to a student’s academic success because they make you a more well-rounded student.”

Since the GE requirement change, students at UC Davis are more open to taking the vast variety of classes offered.

“I think it was a time of huge-scale academic policy change, but I think now it’s pretty well set,” Shasky said. “If a student is concerned, I think advisors are aware of what’s going on.”

RITIKA IYER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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