The Basics

There has been a new General Education, or G.E. program, added to U.C. Merced at the beginning of the Fall Semester in 2018. This new program, now known as SPARK seminar, was created as a new G.E. requirement course to replace the last program, CORE 001. SPARK was submitted by the General Education Subcommittee of Undergraduate Council, or the G.E.S.C.. According to the final proposal of the new program, they had the intention of this class accomplishing three main objectives:

  1. That students take an inquiry-oriented approach to the world,
  2. The program could be completed in four years, and 
  3. The program could be integrated with the requirements of all of our undergraduate majors. 

In implementing new seminar, there are certain required courses that undergraduate students will be required to take throughout their four years. 

Professor Amussen, a member on the committee that proposed SPARK, gave an insight on the reason SPARK is now a campus-wide program. “Other than CORE 001, nothing else was supported as a campus-wide requirement; this meant that students who changed schools, especially students who transferred as juniors, had to meet a whole new set of G.E. requirements”. Having a campus-wide requirement meant that students who changed their major or transferred schools could have a better opportunity to finish on a set time. 

The required courses that new freshmen are required to take include lower division courses and upper division courses; the new courses fall under “Approaches to Knowledge” courses. Under division classes include the following: a SPARK Seminar, Writing 010, a quantitative reasoning course, and language. The SPARK program also demands the fulfillment of certain upper division courses: a Crossroads course, Writing in the Discipline, and integrative culminating experience in the major. And lastly, for the Approaches to Knowledge area, students are required to take three courses and at least one from each of the sections, which includes; Natural Sciences and Engineering, Science and Social Science, and Arts and Humanities courses. 

Professor Amussen said that “One of the most important things for student’s success is [for] students [to] having a relationship with an instructor who teaches something that they care about. And this is what the scholars of education call high impact practices. This is something that CORE was trying to do, but didn’t. Now, we have SPARK that would be a more problem-focused course across campus. 

CORE 001

So, why get rid of CORE 1? There were a number of problems with CORE 1, many of which were addressed in the proposal from the G.E.S.C.. The G.E.S.C. laid out what the  new curriculum should do in their proposal, and what CORE 1 couldn’t do. 

  1. U.C. Merced’s G.E. program should focus on developing student’s inquiry and research skills and abilities, preferably organized according to important contemporary issues.
  2. U.C. Merced’s G.E. program should provide experiences that facilitate student’s capacity to integrate learning across courses and between in-class and out-of-class and curricular and co-curricular experiences
  3. U.C. Merced’s G.E. program should create synergy between major programs and GE
  4. U.C. Merced’s G.E. program should engage students in what research on student success, supported by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research, designates as “high impact educational practices.”

What’s to come from Spark?

Now that this program is implemented through the campus and is still fairly new, there has been a little backlash about the program from the students. However, as this year’s first years complete their studies and finish with their required courses, we’ll know more about whether SPARK is the solution to a new campus-wide G.E. program or not. 


Photo Credit: Marcus Fox

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