Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 3

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Faculty Involvement
Science, Diversity, and Global Learning: Untangling Complex Problems
Breaking the Pyramid: Putting Science in the Core
Geologic Science for Global Citizenship: Under the Radar, but on the Web
Science and Global Learning at Carnegie Mellon University
Campus-Community Connections
Science and Citizenship: Habits of Mind for Global Understanding
Curricular Transformation
Connecting Global Learning and Science Education in the General Education Curriculum
Science, Gender, and the Environment
Student Experience
Seeing the World Around You
Institutional Leadership
Developing a Scalable, Sustainable Campus Diversity Initiative
Resources for Science, Diversity, and Global Learning

Connecting Global Learning and Science Education in the General Education Curriculum

By Harvey Charles, Mildred Bray Dean for Global Education, Wheaton College (Massachusetts)

Wheaton College

Wheaton College

When questioned about institutional commitment to global education, faculty and administrators at U.S. colleges and universities invariably point to their study abroad programs as an indicator of such commitment. Study abroad numbers on a national level, however, are remarkably low—less than 2 percent of total student enrollment according to the Institute of International Education (2004). The Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program (2005) recommends increasing the number of students studying abroad to one million per year. Even if we achieve such a goal—a daunting challenge without significant commitment of funds from the federal government—the overwhelming majority of American undergraduates will complete college without a study abroad experience. In short, study abroad is not, by itself, the answer for institutionalizing a global education agenda. It is becoming clearer that engaging the broadest range of students with global perspectives requires a strategy that is embedded in the general education curriculum.

Wheaton College

Wheaton College

Wheaton College (Massachusetts) has responded to this challenge by developing a general education model that supports disciplinary breadth and interdisciplinary innovation. The centerpiece of this model, the Connections program, has replaced the familiar “menu” method of requiring courses from different divisions with a new vision that emphasizes how subjects and approaches connect across traditional disciplinary boundaries. All students must take at least one three-course “connection” or two two-course “connections” that include courses from at least two of the following areas: creative arts, humanities, history, social sciences, natural sciences, math, and computer science.

Wheaton Connections Linking Science
and Global Issues

Politics and Global Change: This connection combines international politics with geology. Its fundamental premise is that politicians and government regulators often make decisions that affect our natural world without understanding the science that underlies these issues. Water use, desertification, air and water pollution, and climate change all cross national boundaries, but global treaties that would address these problems often prove difficult to ratify or enforce. Politics and Global Change combines relevant scientific information with the political debate needed to help students arrive at a more balanced understanding of the challenges facing the natural world as well as possible paths to resolution.

BioPharma: Combining a course called Cells and Genes with Introduction to Microeconomics, this connection presents students with opportunities to study the global pharmaceutical industry, which has grown into a multibillion-dollar enterprise merging economic principles and biomedical research to develop and distribute therapeutics around the world. Through topics such as vaccine development and distribution, drug therapy and human cloning, and the human genome project, students are able to gain insights into the economic implications of biomedical research and examine the biomedical character of the products that are marketed around the globe.

Food: The Anthropology of Feast and Famine is connected to three natural science courses, permitting students to opt for either a two- or three-course connection. This anthropology course explores topics such as eating disorders, the causes and consequences of malnutrition, and how culture shapes taste and cuisine, as well as controversies around genetically modified food. It can be connected with a nutrition course in the biology department that examines topics such as weight control, the world food supply, the contribution of nutrients to health and disease, and the influence of advertising on food choice and availability. A second science course option is Plant Biology, which deals with the distinguishing features of each plant phylum and of selected families of flowering plants, but also looks at plants that are important as sources of food or as beverages, medicines, or even objects of aesthetic beauty. The final option is Edible Chemicals, a chemistry course that focuses on the chemical components of food as well as their behavior together in cooking and digestion.

This structure has engaged faculty in a voluntary endeavor that has led to some of the most innovative and exciting cross-disciplinary work that has ever occurred at Wheaton. It has spanned some divides that until recently were thought impossible to bridge. While participating in the Connections program is not a faculty requirement, it is the means by which departments participate in the distribution or breadth requirement of the general education curriculum. Faculty members seek out colleagues whose courses appear to make a good fit with their own and propose the creation of a connection. The proposal is then sent to the educational policy committee for review, and once approved, becomes a connection option for students. Student-initiated connections are also possible, and these too must be reviewed and approved by the educational policy committee.

Since the implementation of the new curriculum in 2003, connections have become an important site for the infusion of global perspectives in the curriculum (see www.wheatoncollege.edu/ Catalog/CONX for a list of connections). In fact, at least half of the existing connections have significant global content. A number of this subset involve science courses, demonstrating that the challenge of infusing global perspectives in science courses can be overcome.

Although we are still in the process of collecting assessment data on the effectiveness of this strategy in terms of global and scientific learning, we remain confident that the “connections” model is engaging students in disciplines that they may otherwise shun. At the same time, it is demonstrating to students the profound and ubiquitous ways in which our world is interconnected and interdependent.


Institute of International Education. 2004. Open doors report 2004. New York: Institute of International Education.

Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program. 2005. Global competence and national needs: One million Americans studying abroad. Washington, DC: Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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