As the newly arrived Class of 2013 settles into the brick dormitories of Harvard Yard, they are already distinguished as the first matriculating class to study exclusively under the new requirements of Harvard College’s Program in General Education. Often referred to as Gen Ed, the new undergraduate curriculum formally launches this fall, aiming to connect students’ academic experiences with life beyond the classroom and helping them understand the world and their role in it.

“The new General Education curriculum reaffirms Harvard’s long-standing tradition of complementing specialized teaching with courses designed for the generalist,” said President Drew Faust.  “We should all be very grateful for the efforts of so many people over so many years in bringing us to this exciting point.”

Gen Ed provides learning opportunities spanning the University’s departments and Schools. Some 230 courses have been approved in Gen Ed’s eight categories: Aesthetic and Interpretative Understanding, Culture and Belief, Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning, Ethical Reasoning, Science of Living Systems, Science of the Physical Universe, Societies of the World, and the United States in the World. Students must complete one class in each of the eight categories, one of which must engage substantially with the study of the past.

“Harvard has always upheld the vitality, significance, and relevance of a liberal arts education, while simultaneously considering a student’s academic journey in a broader intellectual context,” says Michael D. Smith, John H. Finley Jr. Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). “The new Gen Ed curriculum continues that tradition, while giving consideration to the challenges and opportunities students will engage in the 21st century.”

The Gen Ed curriculum was approved in May 2007 by the FAS following the comprehensive Harvard College Curricular Review. The first Gen Ed courses were offered in the fall of 2008.

The requirements are such that most students will take one Gen Ed class during each term. First-year students might also find Gen Ed courses helpful in exploring academic options.

Beginning this year, the 30-year-old Core Curriculum has merged with Gen Ed, with combined offices on the fourth floor of Holyoke Center. Upperclass students can continue to choose between graduating under the requirements of the Core or Gen Ed. All courses approved for Gen Ed also fulfill Core requirements.

“The Class of 2013 will be the first of many Harvard classes to benefit from the numerous ways the Gen Ed curriculum helps students to contextualize and appreciate the complexities of the world,” says Evelynn Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies and dean of Harvard College. “Gen Ed provides a common framework for students to connect their experiences in the classroom to their lives beyond Harvard. In this way, the curriculum anticipates the impact that Harvard students will have on the world, even as it teaches them the skills they will need in the future.”

Gen Ed launch includes lecture, Sept. 3

The launch of Gen Ed will be marked Thursday (Sept. 3) at 4:30 p.m. in Lowell Lecture Hall with a lecture by the two co-chairs of the Task Force on General Education: Alison Simmons, the Samuel H. Wolcott Professor of Philosophy, and Louis Menand, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English. The talk will address how the new curriculum addresses the challenges facing a liberal arts education in the 21st century. “The Gen Ed Difference: Linking the Liberal Arts to Life” will be attended by President Drew Faust, Dean Michael D. Smith, and Dean Evelynn Hammonds, and is open to all members of the Harvard community.

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