U considers grand topics for curriculum

The University of Minnesota is considering changing its undergraduate core curriculum to focus on three of the world’s great issues.

Campus leaders say the Grand Challenges initiative would add interdisciplinary instruction in climate change, food-supply security and the challenges of urban life.

Provost Karen Hansen says the initiatives gives a way to take what they’ve learned in various fields and apply it to one of those areas.

“This will be a way in which they can begin contributing to solutions to the world’s problems while they are students,” she said.

President Eric Kaler said a sociology student with an interest water, for example, could take a political science course on global water conflicts. Engineering could teach him about the limitations of water filtration. A health class could focus on water-borne disease. And a communication couse could address the discussion of clean water and sanitation across cultures.

“And those four courses together would, I think, make a very interesting student highly attractive to a worldwide company [such as Ecolab] who was interested in water,” he said.

Kaler said the three topics are the U’s initial choices, but those could change in coming years. The president said he’d like at least part of Grand Challenges to be a requirement, but said faculty control  the curriculum.

The initiative is part of a strategic plan that regents will vote on next month.