A yearning for learning

Since the foundation of the University of Chicago in 1890, it has not only been well known for academics and research but also for politics, art and business.

Lisa Kao

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Since the foundation of the University of Chicago in 1890, it has not only been well known for academics and research but also for politics, art and business.

Well known for having 33 alumni as Nobel laureates, it also gave birth to winners of Pulitzer Prizes, John Bates Clark Medals, MacArthur Fellows and others. Wealth-X Billionaire Census 2018 says the university is among the 10 universities with the most billionaires in the world.

The secret behind these notable achievements are not only highly qualified teaching staff and hardworking, creative students, but also the experience that the university provides beyond majors.

As early as the 1930s, the University of Chicago recognized the importance of a holistic development.

The university has divided at least half of students' curriculum with the common curriculum.

"In the first two of four years, students have to take a series of general courses, including the humanities, social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences," said John Boyer, dean of The College at the university, who oversees undergraduate programs.

The general courses also includes training in English comprehension. "The later two years will be their specialized major," he said. "This means, whatever your major is, the first two years in the college will be general courses only."

The dean is proud of the common core program and believes that it makes an important foundation for students' further studies.

"These courses are meant to be an introduction to the larger area of knowledge and skills to do advanced researches or studies," said Boyer.

For a better future career, other knowledge is essential. "A better journalist learns something about humanities and biology as well."

Most other universities in the United States spend all four years on major training. Boyer believes that the two years on common core subjects is worth more than putting all four years into specialized majors.

Broader training equips students with skills and perspectives on human nature and problem solving. "I want them to be able to think in an analytic way," said Boyer.

About 90 percent of the students continue their studies to a master's degree. Spending years in building general knowledge gives them a solid base to further their studies.

In developing the common core to every year one and two student in the university, every faculty is involved. "History is the largest faculty, with 45 professors specializing in Asian, Latin American and European studies."

However, it does not mean the faculty has the most undergraduate students, just that they played a large part in common core.

"One of the requirements in the common core is that students have to do a year of history," said Boyer, who is also a professor of history.

Studies apart from specialized majors do not stop after the third or fourth year. Adding to the common cores in the first two years, students can also choose to do a double major or take other advanced courses outside of their majors in the senior two years.

"For example, an economics major can take psychology, computer sciences or political courses," he said. The extra courses help them to understand economics in another way.

Internship and research opportunities are another part of students' study experience.

"Every year we provide 3,000 paid summer internships, which is highest among the pure group."

Boyer wants to make good use of the summer to improve student skills. Internships and research opportunities can be in or outside the university - including abroad. "We have students working in Chinese labs in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, which are fully sponsored," he said.

It is also popular to get experience abroad during the third year. "About 60 percent of our students go for a foreign program of around three to four months."

It is not a requirement for the programs, but most of the students treasure the opportunity. "It is very valuable to have cross-cultural experience, learning about another culture and language."

Global education is emphasized at the university.

Aside from experiencing life outside campus, an international atmosphere is also created inside campus with 15 percent of the students coming from abroad. "We have 15 students from Hong Kong, around 70 from China and about 10 from Singapore - a good representation from East Asia," said Boyer.

The largest number of international students is from China. Britain is second.

The University of Chicago is always looking for students interested in academic work, reading and debate from around the world.

"We often have information sessions abroad, in Hong Kong, in Beijing."