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The Student Committee on Undergraduate Education’s 2010 White Paper on Undergraduate Education is one of the most important documents to come out of student government. Chances are that you, an undergraduate at Penn, have not read it, or even know it’s been released. This is a problem.

SCUE Chairwoman and College senior Alex Berger describes the White Paper as “a synthesis of the biggest and brightest ideas to come out of SCUE in the past five years.” When you consider that this is the branch of student government that was directly responsible for changing the curriculum, introducing fall break and making the College of Arts and Sciences coeducational, the previous statement holds a lot of weight.

The White Paper is a 48-page document full of innovative ideas and recommendations to the administration on how to improve academic life at Penn. It only comes out once every five years. “The final document is a compilation of the thoughts and writings of our entire body, made up of approximately 25 to 40 people in any given semester,” Berger said. “Every member was expected to contribute something.” In short, a lot of work by a lot of people went into creating this document. It is the culmination of five years’ worth of SCUE’s endeavors.

Why should the average undergraduate care about the White Paper? If you read it, you will understand. This paper is loaded with great ideas that, if implemented, could revolutionize the way students learn at Penn.

A perfect example of this would be SCUE’s recommendations on altering the general education requirements that are the bane of every College student at Penn. As it stands now, we College students have seven sectors and five or six foundational requirements to fulfill on top of our majors or minors. SCUE thinks that Penn should be offering undergraduate science seminars so that students could actually explore a scientific area without facing the often harsh curves associated with science classes. In addition, SCUE believes that students would be more willing to explore academically through their sector requirements if they could take a small number of them pass/fail.

The White Paper also tackles another area of undergraduate academic life that is slightly lacking at Penn: opportunities in research. Though Penn is unrivaled when it comes to pure volume of research performed, undergraduates are rarely provided the opportunity to participate. SCUE thinks this could be remedied through the creation of unique freshman research seminars, in addition to expanding the current Provost’s Undergraduate Research Mentoring program. If implemented, both of these recommendations would greatly increase our access to the exciting research that is happening all around us.

These areas are just two among many that SCUE covers in this year’s White Paper, which is easily accessible on SCUE’s web site. If there is an area of undergraduate education that you believe needs improvement, chances are SCUE covers it in the paper.

SCUE is a branch of student government that mostly works behind the scenes. It doesn’t throw huge events that students anticipate for years like Hey Day. It doesn’t hold open meetings every Sunday where any student can go and voice their concerns. And it certainly doesn’t organize a huge festival in the spring notorious for its debauchery and fried Oreos. What SCUE does do, however, is work tirelessly to find ways to make Penn a more academically stimulating environment. In many respects, this is more important than anything any other branch of student government does. After all, we are here to learn, aren’t we?

Next time you find yourself with a half an hour and nothing to do, pull up the White Paper. Who knows? Maybe it will change the way you view the University’s academic life. Dennie Zastrow is a College senior from Wilson, N.Y. He is the former chairman of the Lambda Alliance. His e-mail address is A Dennie For Your Thoughts appears on Thursdays.

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