A circle in the center that says \"VCU ConnectED.\" Around it are five thought bubbles. The bubble in the bottom left corner says \"Build critical thinking skills.\" The bubble in the upper left says \"Connect your knowledge to the wider world.\" The bubble at the top of the image says \"Explore new subjects, find new interests.\" The upper right bubble says \"Become a well-rounded and informed citizen.\" The bottom right bubble says \"Develop interpersonal skills employers look for.\"
ConnectED expands students’ general education options to create a more meaningful experience with real-world takeaways that will help them throughout their careers and lives. (Contributed image)

What to know about ConnectED, VCU’s revamped general education program

Program redesign opens up a wider range of course offerings for students to explore and search for intriguing new interests.

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Like at any college or university, Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduates spend much of their first and sometimes second year taking classes that fulfill general education requirements. But in 2021, VCU updated its general education program – now called ConnectED – to expand students’ options for this crucial foundational aspect of their curriculum and to make it a more meaningful experience with real-world takeaways that will help them throughout their careers and lives.

The program is also designed to help students discover new interests and subjects they may not have realized existed.

“ConnectEd is a complete overhaul and redesign of the general education program here at VCU,” said Vicki Pallo, Ph.D., associate professor and textbook coordinator in the Department of Focused Inquiry, at the University College. “It opens up a lot more course offerings for students. There’s a lot more interdisciplinarity there.

As part of the ConnectEd revamping, a new student-facing website launched this summer to better help undergrads navigate their opportunities. ConnectEd features nearly 100 classes that students can choose in the categories Foundations of Learning, Areas of Inquiry, and Breadth of Knowledge, encompassing humanities and fine arts, natural sciences and social behavior sciences. The initiative was developed through the provost’s office. 

“We had a very select number of courses that were in the previous iteration of the general education requirements for students who are getting their undergraduate degrees here at VCU,” Pallo said. “So now they have a lot more course offerings and opportunities to learn and study in disciplines other than their major.”

Pallo led the effort to create ConnectEd as the chair of the General Education Curriculum Committee at VCU, which manages the undergraduate students' general education program, along with faculty members of the GECC. In the first year of the ConnectED curriculum, Angela Reynolds, Ph.D., professor and Ph.D. program director in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, was the GECC chair. She worked closely with Pallo through this process, while Pallo was chair-elect and also worked closely with co-chairs of the General Education Assessment Committee to develop aspects of the program such as the website and symposium, along with faculty and student support.

The ConnectED website development and design was driven by GECC/GEAC leadership and implemented by members of the provost’s office.

Pallo said one of the primary goals of the ConnectED program is to help students find value and meaning in their general education requirements.

“We’re trying to re-emphasize to students that even though we are an R1 university (a university with very high research activity), we value a liberal arts approach to general education, and we are trying to provide them with what is basically the first leg of their degree,” Pallo said. “So, it's a way in which they are exposed to lots of different disciplines and majors that hopefully give them skills that extend beyond the classroom and will equip them for their future careers and lives as citizens.”

The image is a graphic of all of the course structure for ConnectED.
The ConnectEd program is intended to empower students to explore and expand their interests. (Contributed image)

Audrey Martin, a first-year student, has taken multiple ConnectED courses, including Intro to Anthropology, Human Societies and Globalization, and U.S. Government. Martin, who has not yet declared a major, learned about the website through an email she received from VCU over the summer.

“It was pretty smooth,” Martin said of her experience using the site to find classes that interested her.

She went over the classes on the list with her adviser over the summer and found the process to be straightforward.

“The anthropology class has helped me a lot to figure out what my major is [going to be],” Martin said. “I’m actually trying to differentiate between anthropology and sociology as majors, because we didn’t have classes like that in high school – what that entails and what it means. So that class has been really helpful and pretty interesting. We have a really good professor who for a lot of our projects lets us explore whatever we’re most interested in.”

The ConnectED program aims to expand students’ horizons whether they come to college knowing exactly what they want to study or, like Martin, are still figuring it out. Here are four key things to know about the redesigned program:

  1. Classes are cross-disciplinary.

Students from various disciplines can take a diverse mix of classes outside of their chosen academic field for exposure and enjoyment. The Areas of Inquiry classes, for instance, are divided into four sections: global perspectives; scientific and logical reasoning; creativity, innovation and aesthetic inquiry; and diversities in the human experience. Examples of the classes offered in those areas include Culture, Diversity & Communication in Health Care Settings; Seeing, Playing, Deciding – This is Math?; Dance in Hollywood; and Building a Just Society.

  1. The ConnectED website is a one-stop shop.

Explore connected.vcu.edu for course options, program structure and the nitty-gritty details of how many credits are required and in what areas. The site is chock full of the information that first-year students need to know about VCU’s general education requirements, and there’s also a section with detailed information for faculty.

  1. Courses have real-world applications.

Subject matters for the courses are carefully selected and crafted to connect to students’ lives – including classes such as Banned! Art & Controversy, Disease and Human Ancestry, Race and Racism in the United States, and Confronting Climate Crisis.

  1. Students are in the driver's seat.

The ConnectEd program is intended to empower students to explore and expand their interests. The website is designed to be accessible, with student-facing material that students can access and navigate on their own so they can research classes and plan their course loads, while understanding the general education requirements. Students should still go to their advisers to navigate the process. “Ask questions and take ownership of your education,” Pallo said.