Divisional Foundations

Divisional areas of knowledge organize the faculty and the curriculum – Natural Sciences; Social Sciences; and Arts and Humanities – rather than traditional majors or departments. Each division establishes its own required foundation courses and provides options for completing advanced work within and across the divisions. 

  • In the humanities and arts, rather than start with a traditional major like philosophy or religion, integrated, interdisciplinary studies allow students to investigate, say, ethics broadly— perhaps in terms of global health or Enlightenment ethics of rights and autonomy as it confronts ethics that emphasize tradition, religion and community. Many students will find their passion in such issues first and only afterwards think about what disciplinary approach is best suited for them as an approach to their passion.  
  • Integrated, interdisciplinary studies in social science reflect the ways in which research, teaching and external engagement are increasingly practiced in these areas. These communities structure knowledge in a way that anticipates the intellectual trajectory of these fields, capturing the emerging convergence in methodological toolkits, analytical frameworks and thematic questions.  They organize a students’ education around the way scholars and practitioners actually work and think about their fields. 
  • In the natural sciences, students preparing for careers must develop a deep understanding of the basic concepts and techniques relevant to their subfield.  At the same time, it is not necessary or even possible to anticipate precisely which subfield the student will need to know or that the relevant knowledge will reside within the canon of a traditional discipline.  The goal is for students to develop a sense of what counts as an explanation of a natural phenomenon, along with a sense of the scope of phenomena that can be (or have been) explained.  This goal is best met by communities that span several traditional disciplines, rather than diving as deeply as possible into just one. 

Divisional Foundation Courses (8 to 24 credits depending on division) provide opportunities to develop knowledge and skills essential to advanced work in each division. Each set of Divisional Foundation courses also provide instruction and guided practice in specialized communication skills for that division. The following courses are required within the identified divisions:

Humanities and Arts

  • The Art of Interpretation 1: Written Texts: Training in close reading and analysis of text is a foundational skill in the humanities, whether the text is literary or documentary. This course combines practical training in close reading of a variety of texts with theoretically informed strategies of analysis. The course focuses both on reading and analysis of literary texts, and on unpacking documents (official, unofficial, personal) with a view to historical method.
  • The Art of Interpretation II: Images and Sound: This class trains students to develop skill and sophistication in viewing and analysis of images, including art objects, film, and the new media; and in sound studies, including sonic culture, film music, and traditional musical arts. The goal is audiovisual literacy – the creation and interpretation of sound and image that has become central to the ways we experience and understand the world. 

Social Science

  • Decision Making under Uncertainty: All people, whether they are political leaders, corporate titans, managers, students, or consumers, use models to arrive at critical decisions. This course is about the techniques available to improve decision-making and limit mistakes including game theory, social choice theory, statistics and econometrics; program evaluation, simulations and computational modeling and comparative case studies and other forms of qualitative research. The goal of the course is help students become better readers of work in the social science, while simultaneously providing them with a better sense of the options available as they pursue further course work and expertise.
  • Foundational Questions in Social Science: This course introduces students to foundational questions and theories: What are drivers of human prosperity?; What are the causes of war and the determinants of the peace?; Why do some in society have so much, while others have so little?; How do human govern themselves?; What role does religion play in people’s lives and decisions? How does family structure have an impact on people’s lives; What is the impact of human development on the environment? Students will read foundational texts as applied to contemporary research and current events to help them find both their intellectual communities and potential areas of focus for their own study plans.

Natural and Applied Sciences

  • Mathematical Foundations 1 & 2: These two courses introduce fundamental concepts of calculus, probability and computational sciences applicable to inquiry across the natural sciences.  MF1 is an introduction to differential and integral calculus while MF2 covers probability and statistics with an emphasis on concepts relevant for the analysis of complex data sets.  Both courses include problem sets with applications to physics, chemistry and biology. 
  • Integrated Science 1 & 2 – Energy and Emergent Phenomena in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology: This two-course sequence integrates physics, chemistry and biology, introducing the relevant concepts needed for understanding a variety of interdisciplinary applications.  The themes of energy and emergent phenomena highlight the connections between the traditional sciences along with the differences in the types of phenomena they seek to describe.  The laboratories included in these courses add an experiential learning component.
  • Integrated Science 3 & 4 – Waves: Sound and Light and the Biosphere: These two courses focus on fundamental phenomena relevant for understanding the world of our immediate experience.  IS3 emphasizes the physics and chemistry concepts of oscillating systems, waves, and fields.  IS4 has a chemistry/biology emphasis, with physics brought to bear as needed.  IS3 and IS4 emphasize the multiple connections between physics, biology and chemistry, thus providing an integrated scientific perspective that students can carry forward into their areas of specialization.
  • Scientific Writing and Presentations: The Integrated Sciences 3 & 4 courses have linked Scientific Writing and Presentations courses that provide instruction and practice in scientific communications using the laboratory course content.