The decision to enroll in an academically based community service class may include factors beyond whether it’ll count for a graduation requirement.
Only five ABCS courses have counted toward sector requirements since 2006, when two sectors were added to the College of Arts and Sciences curriculum.
When the goals of the ABCS classes match the goals of the sector requirements, professors of those classes can present their case to a School of Arts and Sciences panel that then makes the final decision.
“By definition, the sector requirements are supposed to assume no prerequisites. They are standalone courses that would make sense for someone seeking to get a broad education and that might be the only course that they take in that sector,” said Associate Dean of the College and Director of Academic Affairs Kent Peterman.
“It has to pass that test. If this is the only course you take in the social sciences, is it doing the work it needs to do?” he said.
ABCS courses, on the other hand, may call for familiarity with a discipline and appropriate methodology. “In some ways, many of the courses would be better, both in terms of what students learn from them but also in terms of what they provide for the community, if students doing them had some real methodological chops,” Peterman said.
“There’s an openness to it, but there’s not a whole lot that’s happened,” he added. “When it’s appropriate, it’s a positive thing.”
The first ABCS class began in 1985, and the program has continued to expand since, offering over 60 classes and enrolling about 1,600 students.
This semester, only “Urban Environments: Speaking about Lead in West Philadelphia” taught by Earth and Environmental Sciences lecturer Rich Pepino fulfills a sector requirement — natural sciences and mathematics.
Several other classes do count for foundational requirements.
Many students see fulfilling sector requirements as an added bonus that may come with some ABCS courses, but fulfilling sectors is not at the heart of their decision to enroll.
College junior Caroline Fouvet does not have to fulfill sector requirements because she is an exchange student from France. She is currently enrolled in “Latinos in the U.S.,” taught by Sociology professor Emilio Parrado, to learn about America’s Latino population by tutoring students with Spanish-speaking parents.
She chose to take this class because she is interested in learning about Latinos and wants to go into diplomacy in the future.
College sophomore Melanie Young believes that the nature of ABCS courses allows them to serve as great introductions to a discipline. “I think that they’re good introductions especially because they’re small and the teachers are usually really passionate about what they’re doing or else they wouldn’t be trying to go out in the community.”
Currently enrolled in her fourth ABCS course, Young was unaware that she has been fulfilling requirements along the way.
College senior Courtney Albini has taken three ABCS courses. Among other service work, she has taught an environmental science course about avoiding lead exposure at University City High School. Her work in the Philadelphia community ties in to her belief of creating change at the grass root level.
As a double major, Albini made ABCS courses a priority. “I was looking back at my schedule and they’ve been the only electives I’ve taken because history and political science have taken up a lot of space,” she said.
Albini believes that while there is potential for more ABCS courses across departments, there is something to be said about keeping ABCS courses separate from sector requirements.
“It’s a self-selecting group of people and you don’t just want people to take them to fulfill the requirement because you aren’t going to get the passion and enthusiasm you get otherwise.”