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Students sit on the ground in a circle. They have books open.

Not Your Mama's Core 350

By Terry Rayburn Mitchell, '93

How do you teach students to apply their worldview to world problems? How do you get them interested in the relationships between epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and public policy? Core 350 began answering these questions decades ago.

The Whitworth Core Program has three elements: 150 (Christian Worldview Perspectives), 250 (The Rationalist Tradition), and 350 (Applied Ethics, Public Policy & Worldviews). Each course is an introduction to the next and to other, more in-depth, classes. Core 350 was relatively late to the game, and its early years proved difficult as faculty sorted through ideas and methods to enhance students' understanding of the practical applications of metaphysics and epistemology. Students were largely unreceptive to their efforts, and Core 350 struggled to find its footing within the program.

Addressing that struggle, a team led by former Whitworth provost Michael Le Roy, '89, and then-Assistant Professor of Philosophy Keith Wyma made big changes to Core 350 in 2003. Among these, the semester-long lecture format was changed to include a four-week, small-group breakout period during which students could pursue any of eight concentrated approaches to that semester's big topic.

V.P. for Institutional Advancement Scott McQuilkin, '84, a former Whitworth athletics director and professor, was a member of the 350 team in the mid-2000s. He appreciated the innovative breakouts that "provided students with the opportunity to dive deeply into one aspect of the course material." When the topic was public policy, team members led discussions within their areas of expertise: McQuilkin on public funding of stadiums and the constitutionality of drug-testing athletes, others on military spending, public art, money markets, the ethics of damming salmon streams, and genetic engineering of fruit. Addressing students' interests within the bigger questions, faculty asked how, as graduates, students might use worldview, epistemology, metaphysics and ethics to make important decisions about these and other topics.

Students responded. The reviews were good; the model held. And today's Core 350 thrives. Professor of Physics Kamesh Sankaran, the Core 350 team leader, reports that the class retains the model adopted by Le Roy and Wyma and says that "The key features of this course are its emphasis on the framework of making decisions for a group and the in-depth evaluations of specific policies in small groups." And when he's asked to compare the current Core 350 and its earlier iteration, Sankaran says, "Alums from the 1990s would not recognize Core 350 today."