Our most important work

There is little we do at the university more important than curriculum development. Formally, curricula are the prescribed courses that must be completed successfully to earn a diploma. Our curricula are the foundation of the university experience for our students. Students also engage in extracurricular activities (recreational sports, clubs) and co-curricular activities (activities that synergize/augment the curriculum, but typically are outside the classroom and not for credit, such as professional clubs, specialized training, or our college’s new Sustainability Institute, for which recruitment will begin this fall). To those outside the university, the nomenclature we use to describe our curricula leading to a diploma is often confusing. I want to clarify some of that language as we have brought much focus to our curriculum work in the college over the past five years.

Our cover story highlights the new bachelor of science degree titled Water: Resources, Policy, and Management. All degree programs are approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Much planning, course development, and passage through many steps of university governance take place before a degree proposal is even sent to SCHEV for consideration. Any significant changes to an approved degree program must be reconsidered by SCHEV.

The degree name may not necessarily be the same as a student’s major. For example, students can earn a degree in fish and wildlife conservation, with a major in either fish conservation or wildlife conservation. Additionally, students can sometimes choose a concentration area — called an option or track — within a major, such as the marine fisheries conservation option in the fish conservation major. Not all majors are named differently from the degree, and not all majors have options or tracks available. The student’s diploma includes the degree and major.

On the right, you can see the hierarchy of our current undergraduate offerings in the college. Why am I taking time to explain this? It can be confusing for students (and parents), future employers, and even for alumni who are interested in our evolution. But the hierarchy and nomenclature are important to us as we focus on student learning, learning outcomes, and doing the very best job we can at offering contemporary, challenging, and rewarding degree programs. As we hire new faculty, our knowledge base changes and evolves. As the world around us changes, so must individual courses, options, majors, degrees, and, ultimately, the curricula. We have been vigilant these past few years in modernizing our curricula to offer our students the very best educational experience we can. We balance the evolution of our course content with respect for the strong foundational principles across our disciplines. It is hard work, it takes considerable time, and it sometimes moves slowly through the system. We rarely talk of these details. I want you to know that at our foundation are our curricula, built from a composite of great courses in the college and across the university. We are very proud of our degree programs and equally proud of our faculty who deliver on our most important job: student education.

Warm regards from our faculty, staff, and students,


Paul M. Winistorfer