Mount begins new year with 'Veritas' as its compass
First major core curriculum change in 20 years aimed at bolstering 'academic community'
By Blair Ames/Frederick News-Post
Veritas is the Latin word for truth. At Mount St. Mary's University, it is now the cornerstone for a student's education.
The Mount's newly organized core curriculum, Veritas, provides a road map of undergraduate core courses and when students will take them during their four years at the university.
For example, students in the class of 2016 are required to take at least two specific core courses in their first semester, worth a total of nine credits, and four core courses in the second semester, worth 12 credits.
This year's freshmen will be the first class to follow the new system, which is the university's first major change to its core curriculum in 20 years.
In creating Veritas, Mount officials wanted to preserve what was best from the former core while adapting to meet the needs of a changing student body, said Leona Sevick, associate provost and director of the Veritas program.
The new curriculum sequences and integrates courses with others taught during the semester, which will help students retain their experiences longer, Sevick said.
With students taking similar courses at the same time, Sevick anticipates the creation of academic and intellectual communities throughout campus.
"They're talking about their academic work in the residence halls, in the cafeteria. Sometimes they're complaining about it, sometimes they're helping each other learn, but that's what we mean by an academic community," she said. "That's different than a lot of liberal arts institutions."
Mount President Thomas Powell believes Veritas will get the university back to one of the great tenets of a college education: a shared intellectual experience.
Having the faculty teach as a team and expose students to the same readings and assignments as they move through the curriculum will provide a more coherent product for students as they finish, he said.
Freshman core requirements leave the option of selecting only one or two non-core courses each semester, but the Mount is not concerned with limiting student choices, Sevick said, because the number of required courses decreases each year.
"We're not saying pick and choose," she said. "We're saying this is what we believe will educate your students best. Parents are really interested in it and students seem really interested in it."
Freshman Brady Parson said he does not mind the college picking his core courses and outlining when he will take them.
"They take the ropes for the first year, and it makes it a little easier on you," he said.
Freshmen will take mostly new courses designed and written by Mount faculty, Sevick said. Some have elements from previous courses, but they are largely new.
While students have fewer class choices early in their college career, Sevick said, flexibility is built into the curriculum when a student declares a major.
Freshman Emily Puthawala is undecided on her major; she believes the curriculum could make her decision easier because students will be studying similar subjects at the same time.
"That's the great thing about Veritas. We (students) can bounce ideas off of each other and learn something that we never thought we would be interested in," she said.
Puthawala did not know about Veritas before she applied to the Mount, but knowing the faculty was willing to change and improve the curriculum shows they care about the students, she said.
"It definitely cemented my decision to come to the Mount," she said.
If a student wants to transfer from the Mount, Sevick sees few problems transferring credits.
She might need to submit additional documentation to the transfer school on the Veritas Symposium, a first-year seminar course, but credits from other courses should transfer without a problem, she said.
What most excites Sevick is the leadership aspect of Veritas, which will begin within students' first weeks on campus and end in the spring semester of their senior year.
The Mount believes it is responsible for helping students develop leadership skills, she said.
"Something that I think all students should be prepared for is taking on leadership responsibilities, whether that's in the workplace or in the home or in a family," she said.
The new curriculum requires students to maintain a portfolio of their leadership activities and experiences over their four years, documenting their leadership roles on campus through reflection pieces and a r?sum?. It will also include the completion of approved courses, programs through the student life department or skills workshops offered by career services.
Students will present their portfolios to a faculty panel during the second semester of their senior year.
The Mount hopes this leadership aspect of Veritas will help students understand that they must take personal responsibility to make the world a better place, Sevick said.
"That sounds like a really grand idea, but if it doesn't happen in college, then where will it happen?"