Forbidden studies, chaos and community, popular culture. These may not sound like typical college classes, but they are just a few of the options to fulfill the University Studies (UNST) course requirement at Portland State University.
While UNST may sound like a German pronoun, it is in fact the popular nickname for PSU’s general education department. It is an interdisciplinary program created in 1994 to encourage exploration of topics outside student퀌_s chosen majors. Since its implementation, all students with the exception of pre-dentistry and pre-nursing majors are required to take University Studies.
Though required, some students have a difficult time understanding what, exactly, 퀌�University Studies퀌� entails. Read on for a greater understanding of your UNST future at PSU.
Students entering PSU with less than 30 credits begin their general education with freshman inquiry (FRINQ), a year-long class with the same instructor, mentor and classmates. Nine different FRINQ themes are offered this year, each with a maximum capacity of only 40 students.
Mentor sessions are smaller, a prime opportunity to ask questions and participate in more in-depth class discussions. Make sure that when you register for your class, you also register for one of its three corresponding mentor sessions.
The three terms of FRINQ are followed by sophomore inquiries (SINQ), covering more diverse areas of interest, broken down into 26 options called clusters.
Each cluster퀌_s introductory class is its SINQ offering. As a junior, each cluster includes department-offered classes that explore the topic further. Some of these clusters are specific, such as the women’s studies cluster, while others leave room for interpretation, such as the popular culture cluster.
Sophomore inquiries from three different clusters are required, and all of them, excluding the natural science cluster, have a mentor session like freshman inquiry.
Now it퀌_s time to pick the topic that interests you the most from one of the clusters you have already chosen.
Check that cluster’s course offerings in the Schedule of Classes or check the clusters page of the UNST Web site, http://www.ous.pdx.edu/sinq/snqclas1.html.
About 20 different classes are offered in each cluster, and students must select three from each chosen concentration.
For example, after you have finished your SINQ classes, the class on morality might be the most interesting one you퀌_ve taken. You would then check the UNST Web site and find the morality cluster classes, see which classes you would be interested in, and check the Schedule of Classes to see if they are offered this term. Repeat this process twice, and you퀌_ll have completed your requirements.
Here’s a tip for picking your cluster classes: pick a cluster that offers classes in your minor. These classes cannot count as credit for your major, but they can count for your minor. This is a great way to maximize your credits.
Your last UNST requirement, the senior capstone, is a six-credit class that can be taken in one term or split over two for three credits each. These classes are tied to the community in some way and often include community service work.
There are a wide variety of capstones offered. The Fall 2003 term alone offers 39. Their descriptions can be found on the capstone page of the department Web site at: http://www.ous.pdx.edu/capstone/index.html.
While transfer students with 30 or more credits experience some variation in thier UNST experience, many students at PSU will experience the entire general education process. Working your way through the University Studies program can seem tedious and frustrating at points, but it can save you time in the long run.
All class information can be found in the Schedule of Classes or on the UNSTWeb site, http://www.ous.pdx.edu.
It doesn’t always work
Learning a wide range of topics and skills is one thing Rene McDonald feels she missed out on with her University Studies experience.
McDonald has completed her freshman inquiry, three sophomore inquiries and two of her cluster courses.
McDonald saw some perks with the Mentor Program, but felt that the Inquiries were a step back.
“My (freshman inquiry) felt like high school again,” she said. “And the sophomore inquiries seemed a little pointless for my second year of college.”
While University Studies is a condensed version of general education, McDonald felt it lacked what individual classes can offer.
“There wasn’t a lot of math, for example,” she said.
McDonald took Writing 121 in addition to her freshman inquiry, which is supposed to take the place of that writing course. She noted that there were quite a few writing assignments, but not a lot of emphasis on how to write in the inquiry.
The one upside to her freshman inquiry she mentioned, however, was the mix of people.”There were a lot of different people, but they were all open-minded,” McDonald said.
When it works …
Nicole Kirchoff knows firsthand how concise University Studies is, compared to general studies at Oregon State University. Kirchoff came to PSU as a freshman and completed her freshman inquiry and one sophomore inquiry.
Winter term of her sophomore year, she transferred to OSU. Many PSU students worry how their University Studies credits will transfer to other schools, but Kirchoff said hers transferred well.
Her freshman inquiry class ended up taking the place of two writing classes and a speech class at OSU, three general-education requirements for OSU students.Comparing her experiences at PSU and OSU, Kirchoff commented, “I think (University Studies) is wonderful. Before I thought it was ridiculous. Now I see how well rounded it was. It takes the place of so many classes you have to take at other schools.”Taking advantage of the perks of University Studies is up to each student. As Kirchoff pointed out, “For me it worked out. For others? I don’t know.”
She is planning on returning to PSU her senior year and won’t mind coming back to University Studies. “I learned a variety of things there,” she said.