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Although gen eds can seem annoying or frivolous, they present a valuable opportunity for students to learn outside of their majors.

Gen eds — those pesky little classes everyone has to take to graduate and move on to bigger and better options. Many students dislike gen eds for their tendency to be too challenging, full of pointless busy work or because they distract too much from the major-specific classes that students are actually interested in taking. 

That said, there are plenty of other students who’ve had positive experiences with gen eds and met some of their favorite professors in these required classes. 

Even with the switch to online or hybrid style classes, there are still several worth putting on one’s schedule for the upcoming semester. To make planning easier, here’s a list of some of the best gen ed classes and professors to take.

Cluster 1: Critical Thinking

HIST 150 Critical Issues in Recent Global History 

It’s easy to think of history as “boring.” Many students have trouble relating the writings and events of the early centuries to their own lives. HIST 150 offers a different way of looking at history. The class is meant to encourage students to think critically about history that’s led to current events and what those events mean for the future of the world. For those who still might think that sounds boring, HIST 150 offers students the rare chance to choose what they want to learn in class.

Next semester, there’ll be HIST 150 sections offered on topics such as immigration and refugees, women and revolution, society and the individual and cultural memory in history. With this course, students can narrow down the sort of history they’re interested in learning and can go in-depth with a certain topic in a way that most history classes wouldn’t be able to. 

Popular professors include Neel Amin, who teaches using graphic novels, and Chris Carlberg, who centers his class around historically significant films. HIST 150 has a little bit of everything that can pique students’ interests and provide some valuable learning lessons about modern problems in society. 

Cluster 2: Human Questions and Contexts

REL 101 Religions of the World

With a full range of interesting history, anthropology and general humanities classes in this cluster, religion might seem like a strange course selection. But it’s also one of the most important. College courses are meant to challenge students and push them to look at the world from different perspectives.

Most people took basic history, writing and social studies in elementary and high school, but not everyone had the chance to take a religion class. Religions are some of the most important social forces in modern society, and understanding the teachings and nuances of a variety of religions — not just the largely Judeo-Christian perspective of Western cultures — can be hugely helpful in breaking down stereotypes and educating students on different cultures.

Some nonreligious students might be uncomfortable with the prospect of learning about highly spiritual religions, but professor Frances Flannery reportedly makes the class engaging and interesting for students of all backgrounds. Although there’s plenty of work involved and students are encouraged to come to each class to do well, Flannery is willing to help students during office hours and truly cares about helping students understand religion in a new, more in-depth way. If one’s stumped on which Cluster 2 class to take, REL 101 is a great choice that’ll not only fulfill the requirement but teach students some important lessons at the same time.

Visual and Performing Arts

THEA 210 Introduction to Theatre

Theater can be an acquired taste. Some students might live for the thrill of watching a live performance, while others might have a headache from listening to two hours of peppy musical numbers. Regardless of one’s past experience with theater, THEA 210 is a great course to take to fulfill one’s Visual and Performing Arts credit. This course not only introduces students to some classic pieces of theater that began the tradition of storytelling that evolved into modern TV and film, but it attempts to expose students to other performance traditions from around the world. These include the Eastern theater traditions of Noh and Kabuki and other types of theater that Western audiences have less experience with. 

Professor Emily Becher-McKeever teaches a fun and engaging class full of jokes and real-life anecdotes that’ll be online next semester, which covers a variety of theater traditions throughout the world and attempts to relate to students the role modern theater plays in the artistic scene. This class is a great option for students who are looking to learn something new while still fulfilling a cluster credit.  

Cluster 3: The Natural World

ISCI 101: Physics, Chemistry and the Human Experience

Sciences can be tricky. Some people love them, while others may find them challenging. Science-savvy students should have no problem finding a class among the cluster offerings that fits their liking. Students with a dislike for science might have a harder time figuring out what to take to fulfill this cluster credit. One safe option is ISCI 101, a class that covers a broad range of topics in science. Rather than focusing solely on the particulars of physics or doing a deep dive into chemistry, this class skims the surface of the subjects, teaching fundamental concepts and basic principles of each. Depending on the professor teaching the course, one might also spend some time studying environmental science or biology. 

Professor Costel Constantin has been praised as a great teacher for this beginner level science class. He’s teaching both in-person and online next semester, and according to student reviews, he can communicate well in both settings. Students who are afraid of science class or are dreading fulfilling this cluster credit shouldn’t worry because ISCI 101 is a great, easy class for non-science majors.

Cluster 4: The Global Experience

SOCI 110 Social Issues in a Global Context

SOCI 110, Social Issues in a Global Context, is one of those classes that one might expect to be mildly interesting. It’s about studying society and the issues facing the modern world, which sounds at least minimally applicable to life as a college student. Then one actually gets to class and discovers that SOCI 110 might be the single most important class offered at JMU. 

Not only does it breakdown what a society is and the paradigms through which it’s understood today, SOCI 110 attempts to tackle a plethora of issues from the impact of globalization on modern society to the importance of place in dictating one’s opportunities and choices. This class is chock-full of potential, and Aaron Peeks-Mease is the perfect professor to teach it. He’s goofy, raw and real, often speaking of his own experiences with privilege, poverty and shifting perspectives. Peeks-Mease is a dynamic professor with plenty of heart and an obvious passion for the subject. So, if one has to schedule an 8 a.m. to reach that sweet 15 credit goal, SOCI 110 is one of the best choices for the invaluable life lessons it can teach to receptive and engaged students.

Cluster 5: Individuals in the Human Community

KIN 100 Lifetime Fitness and Wellness (Yoga)

All students are required to fulfill the Wellness Domain of Cluster 5. Most people know this as the P.E. credit, a required exercise class to make sure students know how to take care of their health during college and in life beyond. There’s a slew of options from HIIT training to swim conditioning. One of the most popular classes is the yoga section, not because it’s less intense or less work than the other sections, but because it can provide students with important tips and tricks for dealing with more than just their physical health. 

Part of yoga is learning breathing, stretching and meditation techniques. These can help reduce stress, anxiety and improve mental health. While other sections are running laps around Godwin Hall, one can be practicing the art of quieting the mind in a zen early morning yoga session. 

KIN 100 is definitely the best bet of the two wellness classes as it has less requirements, more varied exercise options and can leave students with a real health and wellness routine that actually works for them. 

Although gen eds can seem annoying or frivolous, they present a valuable opportunity for students to learn outside of their majors and areas of emphasis and learn to view the world in a new way.

Contact Alexandra Dauchess at dauch2al@jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture and Instagram @breeze_culture.