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FMCC’s General Studies Program: A Gateway

Posted: December 3, 2021 — On a pin board in my office, there is an old copy of the FMCC college newspaper, “The FM Gateway.” This copy has been hanging in my office for years now, and it has grown more discolored with each passing semester. This particular copy hangs open to a page with several articles written by a former student. I can still recall his excitement in showing me his newly published work. Like many FMCC newspapers of the past, it discussed current events on campus and beyond. His name is still boldly circled, and I often catch a glimpse of his words as I lean back to stretch my neck or back.

I thought about this tattered, yellowing newspaper this past weekend as I spoke at FMCC’s open house. The open house had academic sessions where interested students could get information on various programs that are available at FMCC. I was tasked with talking to prospective students about the General Studies program. The General Studies program is by far FMCC’s largest program. It is designed as a transfer degree where students can complete their core courses and liberal art electives before transferring to a bachelor’s degree. For the typical fulltime student, the degree will take four semesters to complete. Throughout their time in the program, students take various required general education courses, but the degree offers plenty of space for students to explore interests and test the academic waters since about half of the degree is elective credit. This flexibility offers students the unique opportunity to either take courses that are specific to their already burgeoning interests or to use that elective space to explore a variety of different academic offerings at the college.

What I emphasized to these students at the open house was that the General Studies program at FMCC would offer them an opportunity to explore possibilities. Even if first semester students feel convinced about their eventual academic and career goals, those can often grow and change throughout the process of taking a varied and well-rounded liberal arts curriculum. In his famous commencement speech at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace said that a liberal arts education offers people freedom. Specifically, the kind of freedom that “involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them.” You may scoff at this notion of education’s capacity to liberate, or you may embrace it. Regardless, though, there is a level of freedom offered by a degree in General Studies- the freedom to be undecided.

The young journalist whose words still hang in my office was undecided. I’m fairly certain that he is not a professional journalist now, but that’s not why I keep the newspaper on my wall. FMCC offered this student a space to explore that as a possibility, along with the possibility of being a psychologist, nurse, computer programmer, or businessman. For a time, he had the freedom to learn, and I think that’s valuable.

This article was written by Tom Skowronek, Assistant Professor of English, and an Academic Advisor at Fulton Montgomery Community College.

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