General Studies Thematic Turns Twenty-five

GST instructor Robert Herhusky’s weekly art studio students Kristin Rodocker,
Tyler Stenlund, Thomas Doyle, Kristin Swiggum, and Greg Brisbine
collaborate on a chalk mural using images from prehistoric cave
drawings. (photo by Jeff Teeter)

General Studies Thematic, the innovative, interdisciplinary, team-taught program for first-year students, is celebrating its silver anniversary this academic year. "GST is set up to make you think about your life and your role in this world," says Brooke Ghiorso, a math major from Chico who is now a junior. Her friend Amy Wright, a liberal studies major from Downieville whom she met in GST, agrees. "Everything is made to connect to everything else. At the end of the year, you're still referring back to what you learned at the beginning. The whole point of GST is enabling you to say, "Here's where we started, here's where we are. Now, where do we think we're going next?"

In GST, the academic year is divided into seven chronological eras and the story of humans tracked from their emergence in the primordial soup as blue-green algae to their present upright, bipedal existence as a species on the verge of a new millennium. Literature, philosophy, art, economics, music, science, and psychology are presented in ways that advance the plot and deepen it. The program is set up to satisfy nearly all of the average student's undergraduate General Education requirements in one year.

Program coordinator Kirk Monfort, who has been with GST for seventeen years, says that what distinguished GST from other programs that grew out of the educational ferment of the late 1960s and early1970s, many of which no longer exist, was that the "faculty never lost sight of traditional educational goals. It was about alternative means, not alternative ends. Innovation was not pursued for its own sake or to chase some protean notion of relevance [but] to serve such ends as introducing students to the major cultural achievements of humanity; improving their reading, writing, thinking, and speaking skills; instilling good study and, time management skills; and in general prepare them as well as possible to make the most of the rest of their university careers and lives." As part of their GST experience, students travel to Ashland and San Francisco to attend plays and art museums, and they also sign on each semester with CAVE.

"After GST, my sophomore year seemed easy," Wright says. Adds Ghiorso, "What I tell people who ask is that GST is probably the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's the best education I ever got."


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