The College’s commitment to an academic program of the highest quality and to the program in Independent Study is reflected in the excellence of the resources that are available to students and faculty. These resources include a talented and dedicated staff, facilities and equipment that incorporate the most modern technologies, and a traditional campus of exceptional beauty.
The College of Wooster is nationally recognized for mentored undergraduate research, and for more than sixty years the Independent Study program has required that every graduate engage in mentored research and create an original scholarly work. The capacity for individual inquiry and expression marks the liberally educated person, and the Independent Study program at Wooster provides an opportunity through which this capacity may be nurtured. Describing the challenge of the program, President Lowry, out of whose vision the program was established, said, “it invites all students to come to their best in terms of their own talents.”
Independent Study provides all students the opportunity to engage in an activity both personally meaningful and appropriate to their individual fields and interests. It is not reserved for the few. Independent Study is an integral part of a Wooster education and provides the basis for a lifetime of independent learning. Students begin in their first year to develop their abilities in writing, reading, and critical thinking required for the project and explore various areas of intellectual interest. Ideas for Independent Study are stimulated not only by course work in the major but also by courses in other areas, informal exchanges with faculty and students, visiting lectures and arts events, off-campus study, volunteer work, and internship experiences.
Students beginning Independent Study are assigned a faculty adviser to serve as mentor, guide, and critic. Department or curriculum committee chairpersons will assign advisers after consultation with the student and appropriate faculty and consideration of the topic the student wishes to investigate. Each student works closely with his or her adviser through regularly scheduled meetings designed to assist, encourage, and challenge the student. Learning is approached as an exploration shared by student and adviser, each enjoying the opportunity to collaboratively search for solutions.
Specific format and procedures vary from program to program. The Handbook for Independent Study provides general information on the program, and the Departmental/Program Independent Study Handbook for each major gives more specific details. Students should request a current copy of the Departmental/Program Independent Study Handbook when declaring a major. The first unit of Independent Study often consists of a seminar or a tutorial program, designed to explore the possible range of research and creative projects in the chosen field and to initiate the student into a methodology of research or the techniques necessary for creative work. Usually elected during the junior year, this introduction stresses the development of the student’s confidence and ability to carry out a more substantial project in the senior year. During the latter part of the first unit of Independent Study, a preliminary survey of exploration of the subject of the senior project may be undertaken.
In the senior year the student spends two semesters working on a major investigative or creative project which culminates in the writing of a thesis or the production of a substantial creative work. Attention is given to the method, form, and content of intellectual activity, and there is an emphasis on the communication of the results of the individual’s own intellectual and creative achievement. Competitive grants from the Henry J. Copeland Fund for Independent Study make available funds to assist students with unusual expenses associated with their projects and to complete projects of exceptional distinction.
A full list of Independent Study titles is available on the College website. Each student is required to submit to The College of Wooster a digital copy of his or her thesis for archiving, granting to the College and its employees a nonexclusive, royalty-free license to archive it. The student retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis.
The Curriculum: A Wooster Education
A liberal arts education is not for four years but for a lifetime. As such, it should provide an intellectual experience that is both inherently valuable and also provides the resources necessary for a lifetime of inquiry, discovery, and responsible citizenship. These resources involve not the study of any particular discipline but the acquiring of certain intellectual abilities, including a critical disposition, an understanding of the nature of academic knowledge and the different ways of knowing that are reflected in the disciplines, the necessary skills to communicate effectively, an openness to inquiry in all its forms, and an appreciation of cultures and perspectives that are different from one’s own. These abilities will help students to become independent learners for whom education is a life-long process and whose lives are marked by their commitment to knowledge and their ability to contribute meaningfully to their communities.
The College of Wooster seeks to create such independent learners. A Wooster education can be characterized by how it identifies the goals of a liberal arts curriculum and how these goals relate to the process of creating engaged and independent learners and informed and involved citizens.
- A liberal arts education should be rich in content and intellectually rigorous, to engage the minds and the imaginations of students and faculty alike. It should enable students to respond critically and creatively to the range of human inquiry into the nature of the physical world, society, and the human self, and to share their ideas orally, in writing, and through the forms of artistic expression.
- A liberal arts education should help students to appreciate the nature of the academic disciplines-as intellectual tools that enable us to think in structured and systematic ways, and for the depth of inquiry they allow. By study in a number of disciplines, students should come to understand the different ways of knowing that are embodied in the disciplines, and by coming to know at least one discipline in depth, students should equip themselves to become scholars engaged in the creation of knowledge. By reflecting on the connections among the disciplines, students should appreciate how the understanding of a subject may be enlarged by different disciplinary approaches, how different kinds of knowledge are interrelated, and how work in one field is affected by developments in others.
- A liberal arts education should prepare students for lives of responsibility in a pluralistic society and instill a breadth of understanding, concern, and commitment. It should provide opportunities to examine values, to reflect upon the richness and diversity of human experience, and to develop the necessary skills to contribute to the discussion of contemporary issues and to communicate effectively to individuals and across cultural differences.
The kind of independence which Wooster seeks to inspire is epitomized in the program of Independent Study, in which students are required to demonstrate their capacity for critical inquiry, their ability to create new knowledge in a disciplinary context, and the necessary skills to share their learning with a larger community. While Independent Study represents the culmination of one’s learning in a discipline, the goals of the program go beyond disciplinary training. By engaging in the process of Independent Study, students come to regard learning as a process that requires a strong commitment, painstaking research, and the careful development of one’s approach to a subject. Through I.S., students come to understand not only their chosen subject but also the nature of learning itself, and they can bring this approach to other situations in their lives and careers. Because they have developed the resources necessary for independent learning, they can become effective citizens able to respond to the needs of their societies.
These curricular goals find expression in the graduation requirements for each of the degrees the College offers: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Music, and Bachelor of Music Education - see Degree Requirements. The College has emphasized its expectation that all students will complete academic coursework in a number of areas: First-Year Seminar, writing, global and cultural perspectives, religious perspectives, quantitative reasoning, learning across the disciplines, learning in the major, and Independent Study.
In addition to its departments and interdepartmental programs and courses, curricular opportunities are available through two College-wide programs, the Program in Writing and the Program in Interdisciplinary Studies.