The Post: OU themes allow students to explore passions, no degree attached

Undergraduates now have more than ten Ohio University course themes to help explore interests that might be outside of required coursework for their majors.

The themes initiative, or clusters of related courses not confined to a particular academic department, began at OU in spring 2013, after a group of faculty members shared the idea.

“If a student doesn’t have yet a passion or an interest, it gives a student an opportunity to be exposed to these big questions of the 21st Century,” said Theresa Moran, the themes faculty coordinator.

The university offers 11 “themes,” as of spring 2015.

“The best way to describe it is, the themes provide a lens to look through. The themes give the breadth of knowledge requirements within Arts and Sciences greater coherence and focus,” said Nancy Manring, sustainability studies theme leader.

Unlike a major or a minor in a specific department on campus, themes allow for students to engage in courses relevant to their interests, such as issues of wealth and poverty or war and peace, while also fulfilling general education requirements.

The themes are also a way for faculty members to collaborate across different departments.

Some of the courses offered within the themes, designated as College of Arts and Sciences classes, can be applied to a student’s humanities, social sciences or natural sciences requirements, Moran said.

“That gives a student an awful lot of flexibility when looking at the general education requirements,” Moran said. “That’s one of the values to the students.”

Janice Brewer, a senior studying sustainable food systems, participates in the food studies theme.

“Since food is something that is so essential to humanity, I believe … food studies is a field that should be available at every institute,” Brewer said in an email. “It is so exciting to watch and help this program grow and gain so much interest from students who may have never thought about food that way.”

After taking Introduction to Environmental Geography, as part of the sustainability studies theme, Kelli Barker began exploring other sustainability related courses at OU.

“It was the first class that peaked my interest about sustainability,” Barker, a junior studying plant biology and geography, said in an email. “I remember sitting in class the first day and being so enthralled by the class overview. This class also inspired me to do a study abroad trip in Scotland dealing with sustainability.”

Barker is now working on a class project that will allow her to spread sustainability awareness to other students who might be interested in the theme’s courses as well.

“There’s a little bit of something for everybody in (the themes),” said Geoffrey Buckley, a professor and undergraduate chair of the Department of Geography.

Proposals for new theme topics can be created by any group of interested faculty or students who want to explore an unsolved question of the modern age.

“It’s really a wonderful opportunity for faculty, as well as students,” Manring said.

This story also appears on The Post