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SAGES department to offer more USNA courses following shortage

Unable to get USNA courses, students express frustration
SAGES department to offer more USNA courses following shortage
Tyler Vu/The Observer

When the Class of 2021 went to register for courses for next semester, they saw an all too horrifying sight: The Think About The Natural World (USNA) classes were nearly filled. Within the snap of a finger, the 11 USNA courses were filled by a handful of third-year students. This is an ongoing and frustrating headache for students, but the Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship (SAGES) department says this problem is under control.

On Nov. 20, Dr. Erika Olbricht, interim director of SAGES, and Professor Peter Shulman, associate provost for curriculum, sent an email to students saying that they will add more USNA courses in the coming days. Later that day, the number of USNA classes increased to 18, and as of now, there are 25 USNA courses.

One of those students is third-year cognitive science major Gina Roman. “I attempted to sign up for one of the classes that intrigued me, but I unfortunately did not get into it as seats filled up really fast,” she said.

In one instance this year, a SAGES professor wrote to a student claiming they received 40 permission requests to join their USNA class.

USNA courses are part of the outgoing SAGES curriculum that requires all Case Western Reserve University students who matriculated prior to August 2023 to complete University Seminars in three thematic areas: USNA, the Symbolic World (USSY) and the Social World (USSO). Students must take a first-year seminar in one of these areas and then take the remaining areas as additional University Seminar courses throughout the year. This is in addition to a Departmental Seminar and Capstone. Students who matriculated after August 2023 follow the Unified General Education Requirements (UGER), the general curriculum replacing SAGES.

“We are monitoring student USEM [University Seminar] needs very closely and working first, to ensure that all students can enroll in the categories of courses they need to graduate on time and second, to plan for future offerings so students find the right number of courses to meet their needs in a given semester,” Olbricht and Shulman said. “While these numbers aren’t meant to be a secret, we have not yet begun to work with the schools and the [c]ollege to coordinate course offerings for future semesters (fall 2024 and beyond) and we cannot share them publicly before we have had those conversations.”

Olbricht and Shulman also noted that “USNAs have always been in the highest demand relative to other USEMs because more faculty across the university have taught USSYs and USSOs than USNAs.” This is coupled with an increase in the overall student population and fewer faculty offering FSNAs, the first-year version of USNAs.

“It’s important to note, though, that adding up all sections of USNAs offered during the fall and spring semesters, this year will have the highest number of USNAs in the past five years, and probably ever,” Olbricht and Shulman are keen to point out.

An analysis of data from SIS and the Registrar’s Office found that since 2008, the university has availability in SAGES classes for between 8% to 14% of the undergraduate student body. In 2021, there were only seats for 9.97% of the student body in USNA courses. In the current academic year and the previous one, there were seats for 12% of the student body in USNA courses.

Many students are relieved that they could at least take their USNA seminar as a first-year student.

“I don’t think I’ve ever believed in the butterfly effect more than I have over the last three semesters, when I have failed to get a USNA,” one student said. “Perhaps if I managed to get one, I would be much less fixated on having to complete the rest of my requirements and not seeing my GPA decreasing exponentially because of that.”

The SAGES department’s website advises students to finish all of their university seminars before the end of their second year. According to Olbricht and Shulman, “this timeline was the expectation and most students met it.” However, they said this timeline is no longer realistic given the seminars’ capacity constraints.

“From what I have noticed, there has been a panic among some juniors about being able to finish the SAGES program in time. Class registration is a pretty stressful process in general,” Roman said.

“We understand that this situation has been frustrating to students who often have to plan many semesters in advance for what courses they need to take,” Olbricht and Shulman said. They said University Seminars will be offered through 2025. Students can take UGER’s Communication-Intensive Courses to fulfill their USNA requirement.

Roman would like to see more flexibility in the process of getting into USNA classes. “Although there is something to be learned from any class or experience, it is more comforting knowing that you have more freedom to make such decisions,” she said.

Olbricht and Shulman said, “If you are still in need of a USNA, keep looking in SIS as a few more are being added for the spring semester. And if you still haven’t gotten one, know that we’ll be ready to meet demand come next fall.”

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About the Contributor
Zachary Treseler, News Editor
Zachary Treseler is a third-year student majoring in international studies and economics, with minors in art history and French. Outside of writing to The Observer (sometimes at the last minute), you might be able to catch them walking backwards around campus, in Northeast Ohio's various bookstores, or seeing a show at Playhouse Square. Zachary also makes fudge…sometimes.

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