9 September 2015: Science Divisional Director shares more about the Science curriculum at Yale-NUS

Written by Clare Isabel Ee | Image by Weave for Yale-NUS College

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As a young university, Yale-NUS College has developed a highly interdisciplinary curriculum and employed distinctly unique approaches to traditional forms of study. Over their four years of study, students experience a range of modules that span the humanities, sciences and social sciences.

For example, while the study of science may bring to mind numerous formulae, computing numbers, or conducting experiments in a lab, Yale-NUS seeks to complement this traditional form of study with a fresh, innovative approach.

“Although we tend to think of it separately as the humanities, sciences and social sciences, there’s a lot of cross-talk amongst the three,” commented Professor Steven Bernasek, who took up the role of Divisional Director of Science this semester.

“One can learn the tools of science,” he explained, “but this sort of creative thinking and being able to work through a problem on your own – to find the answer though the answer is not given to you – is a real hallmark of a liberal arts education.”

This approach to intertwining liberal arts with the sciences is exactly what the inaugural faculty aimed to impart to students.

In the initial stages of constructing the Yale-NUS curriculum, one of the most important considerations was for the curriculum to answer the question: ‘What must a young person learn in order to live a responsible life in this century?’

While mastering a shared body of knowledge and techniques in the Common Curriculum helps create a collective learning experience with their peers, our students also learn to approach and solve problems from many different angles. This skill, says Professor Bernasek, is a useful one no matter which major they eventually embark on.

“Everyone needs to be able to think critically, to reason through arguments, to write and defend those arguments, whether you’re a scientist, a comparative literature major, or if you’re interested in languages,” he said.

In preparation for ‘depth’, these Common Curriculum courses are not mere introductions to majors, but are comprehensive studies in their own right that give students rigorous introductions to broadly defined areas of inquiry.

Yale-NUS majors are designed to ensure the right balance between maintaining the integrity of individual disciplines and adding the breadth of the Common Curriculum to the subject to augment the learning experience.

“In Science, our biggest focus right now is putting the final touches on our capstone projects for next year, thinking about what exactly these would entail and making sure we clearly communicate the framework so that everyone knows what to expect,” said Professor Bernasek.

“We’ve also been working hard to fine tune the courses for our third and fourth year students,” he added. “We’re teaching some of these courses now, but we’re adding to that and making sure that things are straight all around… Every course like this needs reviewing from time to time!”

Scheduled reviews in the Yale-NUS curriculum are part of the College’s ongoing process to adopt and adapt the best ideas and pedagogies. Feedback from students and faculty is consolidated as a key part of the process. Currently, a committee comprising representatives from Yale, NUS and Yale-NUS College are reviewing the Common Curriculum.

To find out more about the 14 majors offered at Yale-NUS, head over to https://www.yale-nus.edu.sg/curriculum/major/

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