Courses challenge students to achieve potential
February 4, 2019
Elaine Houha has learned what it is like to take on a challenging course load. As a senior in Engineering, she said she had to take a class that, at certain points, required almost 100 hours per week of work outside the classroom. Average exam scores could range between 30-40 percent, with the students receiving an estimated 12-20 percent curve at the end of the semester.
The University often designs courses to challenge its students and help them reach their full potential. The level of difficulty, however, can become a hindrance rather than a help to advance your career.
“Everyone walks into the class either dreading it, or accepting that maybe it will be OK,” Houha said. “It is one of the classes that peers and professors tell you that if you are taking this class, do not take certain other classes alongside it, because it is a time sink.”
According to Houha, there are certain notorious classes at the University that students go into knowing it’s going to be a semester-long struggle. And yet, Houha said she is still grateful for her experience in these classes because of how much she has learned.
“Looking back on it, I enjoyed my time in the class despite how hard it was,” Houha said. “I honestly think this class gave me my internship that I am going to have this summer.”
Houha will be interning at Microsoft in Seattle.
Although the knowledge gained in these classes can be rewarding, it is nonetheless difficult for students to put effort into one course and to walk out with a C. For students looking to go onto graduate school, lower grades can add stress about the prospects for continuing education.
According to professor Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider, many graduate schools are familiar with the University’s curriculum and with the courses that are more difficult, but it doesn’t take away the sting of getting the lower grade.
“It’s always harsh to see a C on a transcript,” Fagen-Ulmschneider said. “Recruiters and graduate school admissions who have looked at a lot of transcripts should know the difficult courses.”
However, Fagen-Ulmschneider, along with other faculty and students, have made a tool for students to know ahead of time what to expect with upcoming classes. Back in 2015, he created a dataset that details the average GPAs of every course at the University, as well as GPA variants by course section.
“It all started with a conversation with students about what kind of information they’d like to be able to access,” Fagen-Ulmschneider said. “And they just said, ‘Well we want to know what the easiest class is,’ and I said ‘OK, let’s find this information.’”
Fagen-Ulmschneider has now gone on to produce various versions of this dataset over the years, giving students access to an easy-to-understand and comprehensive view of classes at the University and how difficult they appear to be.
However, he does not want students to use this tool as a means of avoiding difficult classes, but instead as a tool to know when to challenge oneself with tougher classes and how to create a balance.
“My hope is that this type of information encourages faculty to make more engaging courses and paying more attention to how their colleagues and department are teaching the course,” Fagen-Ulmschneider said.
Going through difficult or challenging courses is something that every student at the University may experience at some point during their time here, but finance professor Kevin Waspi believes the flow and design of many curricula at the University are not meant to be a challenge to the student, but to prepare them as they follow their education.
Waspi said that to be successful at higher-level courses, the 300-level courses provide students the skill sets they need to have. He said these classes work so students will not have a bad experience as they continue to advance.
Professor of FIN 300: Financial Markets, Waspi wants the idea that the class is “challenging” to be changed, and instead to be embraced as a necessary entrance and preparation to 400- and 500-level courses.
“The course was not designed to be a difficult class or designed to be so much work,” Waspi said. “It was designed to be a class to give students the opportunity to be proficient, so that they could succeed in the higher level courses.”
Despite reputations of difficulty or struggle, Fagen-Ulmschneider encourages students to take full advantage of their time at the University, and to not be afraid of what their futures at the University hold.
“You’re at (the University) for four years and there are so many courses that you’ll never have the opportunity to take after you graduate,” Fagen-Ulmschneider said. “So, even if the course is a little challenging, if you find it interesting and you want to understand it, go for it, you’ll never have the opportunity again.”