New science requirement for arts students

All students entering the faculty of arts this fall will now be required to take two half-credit classes in natural science. New courses are offered by the science faculty to help empower non-science majors to make informed judgments on scientific issues and better understand how the sciences affect their daily lives.

The changes to the degree requirements will not affect students in arts faculty programs which did not require science courses when they began. Students can graduate based on the program requirements of the specific year they enrolled, which can be viewed on the online Degree Navigator.

Mary Polito, associate dean of student affairs for the faculty of arts, said it was coincidental that the faculty of science was adding these new courses at the same time that the university was reorganizing the faculty of arts.

According to Polito, the new requirements and the increase of science courses offered to non-science majors will help students with “the kind of intellectual training that comes from doing a course that could be quite different from their program.”

This fall, the science faculty is adding an insects, science and society course in biology, a chemistry class titled How Things Work, and physics classes called Quantum Mysteries and Paradoxes and Introduction to Energy. These join established classes on ecology, the human organism, geology, astronomy, natural disasters and others. There is also a “mathematics appreciation” course where students write a paper on an important mathematician. Detailed information on these courses can be found on the faculty of science’s website.

Actively engaging non-majors in scientific topics and improving their scientific literacy is a difficult task for instructors. Leslie Reid has been tackling these issues directly through her Tamaratt professorship, a five-year position dedicated to improving the student experience in geophysics, since 2007.

“What I really hope these courses impart upon students is that they have the confidence that they are smart and knowledgeable enough to wade into scientific discussion and be able to look at a polarized debate where each side is saying different things and ask, ‘What do I think?’ versus just getting caught up in the rhetoric of one particular emotional group,” said Reid.

Reid has been trying to change the way classes are taught. The construction of the new Energy, Environment and Experiential Learning building will provide opportunities to teach in more interactive classrooms and labs. The landscaping of the EEEL will also aid instruction — landscape architects are asking how they can bring in rock materials and create landforms useful for teaching.

“I want to break out of the mould of the lecture theatre,” Reid said, “It is more important that you guys are discussing and I’m floating around the room than I’m at the front and you are all facing that way.”

While new classrooms that promote group work may improve teaching, Reid has found that it’s what she learns from the students she teaches that really counts, something that she hopes to expand with the diverse new students taking science requirements.

“For me, I am always excited about having a new group of students each year. The more I learn about teaching the more I am able to tap into their experience and their knowledge,” said Reid. “Every time I learn a little bit more and I’m like, ‘Ah! I can engage students more’ so I get really excited for the next year.”

Sabrina Islam of Bowness High School is entering language studies this fall and said some students may have specifically enrolled in the arts to avoid science-based classes, but thinks the university will keep in mind the varied interests of students.

“I think its good that they are doing this and that you don’t do all of your learning in one faculty,” said Islam. “It’s cool they have so many courses so [you] can pick what is best for [you].”

According to George Bourne, faculty of science associate dean of undergraduate policy, improving science literacy can help students make better daily choices, interpret current events with an informed critical eye as well as make them better citizens.

Bourne said that cooking is an example of how the sciences can improve our everyday lives. People now know it is not a good idea to burn beef on a BBQ because it can introduce carcinogens.

Bourne said the expanded science requirements reflect the true value of a post-secondary education.

“I think that apart from coming to university so that you might get a better paying job or something like this . . . the most crucial aspect is being a more understanding person of what’s around you, both in the natural world and in society in general.”

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