Foundation courses set students on a path toward discovery

Joshua Heise

Beginning on their first day of school, undergraduate students on the Aurora and George Williams College campuses are challenged by courses beyond their area of study. These innovative foundation courses inspire students to think critically, identify local and global issues and explore fundamental questions of humanity and responsibility. With a new general education curriculum in its pilot phases in Aurora, and a series of GWC Experience courses at the Williams Bay campus, foundation courses are motivating students to effect change in the world.

“Our goal is to focus students on reading, writing and critical thinking in their first year, while asking the big questions of what does it mean to be human, what does it mean to be free and in what ways are we responsible for the common good—questions that ask students to incorporate self-reflection into their thinking,” said Dr. Eric Schwarze, Dean of General Education. “From there, students approach courses in their sophomore and junior years that explore their roles as world citizens.”

For sophomore English and secondary education major Joshua Heise, the general education course has enabled him to apply issues of global justice on a local level. He and his classmates in Dr. Toby Arquette’s course worked together to identify an important societal issue that they could impact on a smaller scale. They decided to explore the issues surrounding homelessness through work with Aurora-based Hesed House and several on-campus initiatives, including the annual Sleep Out on the Quad.

“The class has been an eye-opener for me,” said Heise. “I’ve been able to see the worst in the world, which makes me ask ‘what can I do about it?’ and I’ve also been able to see the best of humanity and be inspired by the great people who are working to solve homelessness.”

For Heise, these experiences are not only helping him grow personally, but are also preparing him for his future career. “When I am an educator myself, I will be in a classroom with students from many different places. There will be times when the lack of basic necessities are going to affect my students, and I’m going to need to figure out what to do about it.”

His classmate Amy Gerbode echoes his sentiments. “Through the Global Justice course, I’m learning that issues of justice and fairness are complicated, and not as black and white as I previously thought,” she said. “We’re learning how to sift through complicated issues—issues that we will have to face in our lifetime.”

At George Williams College, similar explorations of humanity and social responsibility are the focus of the GWC Experience courses, required for all undergraduates. Students are gaining real-world experience, acquiring additional skills and helping the community through volunteer projects that are part of the course curriculum.

George Williams College sophomore Vanessa Mora volunteers at SMILES.

As part of her class, sophomore social work major Vanessa Mora volunteered at Smiles, a center that offers therapy to individuals with special needs in an equine program. Assigned as a side walker in therapeutic riding, Mora assisted children as they rode through obstacle courses and learned riding techniques. “At first, the little girl I worked with was very timid and shy; she didn’t talk much,” Mora said, “but after working with her every week for a number of months, I started to see progression; she began to open up and speak.”

As with the foundation courses on the Aurora campus, students at GWC also complete reflective class assignments that apply their service to a greater context, discussing important and personal issues that affect their lives and building values and skills congruent with responsible citizenship within the college and community.

“Beginning my college career, I didn’t know what specialty I wanted to pursue with my social work degree,” said Mora. “After my volunteering experience, I now know that I want to work with children.”

Helping today’s students realize their passions is at the core of an Aurora University education. Students begin that journey on day one, and as a result, create lives of meaning and purpose. Soon they will join the more than 30,000 alumni who also have made positive contributions throughout their lifetimes—inspired too by their start at Aurora University.