St. Martin’s University implements new core curriculum

Brian Messing, Editor-in-Chief


Starting this semester, Saint Martin’s University made a monumental change to its curriculum. This fall marked the culmination of the nine-year process to redesign Saint Martin’s core curriculum. Professor Kathleen McKain, who chaired the core committee, spearheaded the effort. 

Redesigning the core curriculum for a living, breathing university is no easy task. Regarding the process, McKain noted “for the past four years we have met on a weekly basis.” 

However, McKain said that now that the implementation has started, the committee has finally switched to meeting on a bi-weekly basis. The committee itself was composed of members from all four colleges and schools, as well as a representative from the library, and a representative from the registrar’s office.

The first step of implementation was to start new students on the updated course catalogue. Returning students remain on the catalogue that was in place when they started at Saint Martin’s, but new students will now start with the new core requirements. When asked about how the transition has gone, McKain said

“It’s gone well. In the initial phase we are cross listing a lot of existing classes with new core classes, the reason being that we have to teach out the students that are under the old core.” 

McKain further added that the committee went into a lot of detail with how the process would work.

One of the main things to change with the new core is an emphasis on writing. Instead of taking two writing courses during freshman year, students will now take one writing course that is four credits, and two more writing intensive courses that will be related to a student’s major in future years. 

“[Writing intensive courses are] one of the hallmarks of this core, we have a writing class at the beginning, a writing intensive course at the 200 level, and a writing intensive course at the 300 level.” 

Each of the writing intensive courses will consist of one credit of writing in addition to other coursework. When asked about why the committee recommended this change, McKain said

“Research shows that students do better when they have writing over time, and having it not all be housed in your first year of college.”

In addition to a renewed focus on writing, the new core also hopes to revamp the curriculum in a way that reaffirms the Benedictine values at Saint Martin’s.

Patrick Cooper Ph.D, and Director of the Benedictine Institute helped to infuse the Benedictine values into teaching the new courses. While it is not a requirement for faculty to include anything about the Benedictine values in their courses, there is a hope that students take away a feeling of something that is unique to Saint Martin’s. 

In the process of redesigning the curriculum, the committee looked to other universities that redesigned their core curriculums. “There were more cautionary tales than anything else,” explained McKain.

Seattle University redesigned its core curriculum, and it ended up costing them more than they realized, after many iterations of the language around their core changed. However, Saint Martin’s core was so unique that most of the issues that other institutions faced did not apply “What we found was that our core was so very different than what was proposed by other places,” said McKain.

There were some challenges that the committee faced during implementation. One big area was with transfer evaluations. Despite a chart being set up that explained which courses would count for which cores, the registrar’s office was overloaded with work relating to transfers for core requirements. Technology and Self-Service were also major issues, however IT was able to help mitigate many of them.

In the end, the Core Planning document went through 20 iterations before it was finalized. The committee made sure that throughout the process, all stakeholders were given the opportunity to respond, and have their concerns heard. In closing, McKain mentioned, “given the size class that we had coming in this summer, it was amazing how it went.”

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