Spotlight: Fox students complete associate degree with nontraditional courses

The Associate of Arts & Sciences (AAS) degree requires a well-rounded coursework of liberal arts, math and science, but by completing the AAS, students can gain preparation for the workforce and for a baccalaureate degree. • UW-Fox Valley file photo

At UW-Fox, students aren’t limited to just classes like the typical biology or chemistry lab to complete the math and science segments of their associate degree—in fact, a number of viable options are available to those who prefer heavier social science emphases, practical scientific knowledge, schedule flexibility or otherwise enjoy unique and unconventional course offerings.

Whether they take courses like Chemistry and Society (CHE 123), Nutrition and Weight Management (HES 209), Observational Astronomy (AST 101) or Elementary Logic (PHI 211), UW-Fox provides varied, flexible course selections including and beyond the expected lab science or upper-level math course.

The associate degree’s mathematical and natural sciences (MS and NS) breadth category requires a “minimum of 11 credits including eight credits in two natural sciences areas and one laboratory science course.”

Theoretically, students who take the abovementioned courses in sequence could earn six of eight required NS credits through CHE 123 and HES 209, they could fulfill their lab science requirement in one credit of AST 101 and they could apply three MS credits to the breadth category by taking PHI 211. With those requirements fulfilled, only one remaining NS course would be needed to complete the 11-credit breadth category.

Chemistry and Society, an online course, fulfills three NS credits, yet generally focuses on the social science aspect of chemistry. Tracy Smith Leiker, senior lecturer of biological sciences at UW-Manitowoc, teaches the online section of the class.

The course is split in four units, but very little of it contains “hardcore, hardcore chemistry,” Smith Leiker says. First, students learn about the basic foundations of chemistry, followed second by chemistry and the environment. Third, students look at various renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, and ends with chemistry and the human body.

Smith Leiker says the goal of the course is to get people to understand the significance of chemistry in society and in people’s everyday lives.

“These chemicals you see on the periodic table are actually all around us, all within us, and chemical reactions basically control what we’re doing, how our cars work, how our computers work, and I think it’s important to understand [chemistry’s] basics, but really appreciate where chemistry is in our lives,” Smith Leiker says.

She continues, saying how beneficial the course is to non-science majors.

“Every day I have students who are genuinely surprised and interested how much chemistry they use in their everyday lives,” Smith Leiker says.

She hopes students can take what they learn in CHE 123 and apply their understanding to current events in science.

“What I hope to have students think and gain appreciation for is if you’re reading a [scientific] news article, it’s useful to think about what is, why we need it, what the possible advantages [are], and to have some framework to be able to have those discussions with other people and to be able to read a news article critically,” Smith Leiker says. “You don’t need to have a chemistry Ph.D. to be able to understand a popular news article.”

According to Smith Leiker, Applied Chemistry and Society (CHE 124) adds a lab component that’s “more about the kinds of chemical reactions that happen in our everyday lives.” The course has historically been offered during fall semesters.

Nutrition and Weight Management is another viable three-credit NS course that differs from the average selection.

This semester the course is taught by Stephanie Lynn Hall, senior lecturer of health and exercise sciences on campus, who stresses the course is important for “learning how to live in a human body” and is intended for all sorts of students.

“Because we all have a human body, shouldn’t we be taught the skillset to take care of it? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone understood what food was versus all the stuff we eat that is not food? If stress-management tools were taught,” Lynn Hall says. “I am very passionate about helping people understand how to be healthy, happy, pain free and enjoy life. When these are in balance, everything is more enjoyable.”

Aside from learning how to take care of one’s body and maintain a healthy diet, Lynn Hall says there are many scientific concepts students go over in the class including the digestion process, and the science of stress, sleep, eating and exercise habits. She goes farther to say that having a working knowledge of health and exercise science makes it much easier to avoid fad diets and maintain healthy diets.

For students needing to fulfill their lab science (LS) requirement, Observational Astronomy (AST 101) is a unique option. For example, students enrolled in any LS course but AST 101 must take four or five credits of both the lab and lecture sections simultaneously. However, AST 101 is a one-credit lab science that can be taken without an astronomy lecture course. This flexible choice allows students to complete their LS requirement in one credit.

Bethany Reilly, astronomy and physics lecturer, attests to the courses’ flexibility.

“I have a lot of students who take it because they need a lab course to finish out their associate degree,” Reilly says. “I get the impression that some [students] have already taken their natural science courses, and they chose ones without labs, and they just need the lab part.”

The course is mostly composed of applied stargazing and learning how to use astronomical technology.

“It’s introductory astronomy, trying to focus on going out and looking into the sky and knowing what you’re seeing,” Reilly says. “Every night that we have class, and if it’s clear out, we usually go outside. We take the binoculars, [and] we take the telescopes.”

On cloudy days, Reilly says students use online simulations to learn how the sky moves and how to identify locations in the sky.

The course is largely composed of lab work, so outside homework mostly tends to be composed of lab reports and brief pre-lab worksheets.

Students who have completed their required eight credits of NS/LS in two disciplines may opt to take a MS-designated course to complete the mathematical and natural sciences category’s remaining three credits in lieu of another NS course. For this purpose, students may choose most any upper-level math course, but another overlooked option is PHI 201.

However, while perhaps a more attractive choice for many UW-Fox students, Evan Kreider, associate lecturer of philosophy, says this designation isn’t as unexpected as it may seem.

“Logic is basically math without numbers. You’re still going to have variables and operators, you’re still doing proofs, but you’re not manipulating numbers yet,” Kreider says.

He continues, saying the course is about learning about formal and more deductive forms of logic that can be quantified into mathematical statements, rather than informal or inductive sorts of logic.

“Basically, it is the kind of deductive, formal, symbolized logic that is in that sense ‘math-y,’” Kreider says. “You’ve got variable letters like p and q, and you’ve got operators, although they’re not the mathematical operators like ‘plus’ and ‘minus,’ they’re the conjunction, disjunction and if-then symbols. [In logic problems], you’ve got some basic information, and then you apply those rules you learn in order to generate your conclusion.”

Although the course is an alternative to traditional math courses on campus, it is by no means an easier choice.

“I think in particular [students] think, ‘Oh, this is sort of like a math credit, but it’s not a math class, so it’ll be an easy math credit,’ but it is absolutely not objectively easier than taking a math class. I don’t that it’s any harder, either,” Kreider says.

Still, even though it’s not an “easy math alternative,” Kreider believes logic is a way to get students to understand math in a deeper way than just memorizing equations, drawing from his own experiences with math before taking logic courses in college.

“I did fine in math, but I didn’t really understand what was going on or why I should be doing this, and it was only when I took logic classes that I realized a lot of what was going on in math was just logic, and that made it easier for me to understand conceptually what was going on,” Kreider says.

In fact, students may benefit more by taking a logic course before enrolling in core math courses so they have a better understanding of mathematic concepts before starting them.

“I think I would have enjoyed [my math classes] a lot more if I had taken the logic classes first,” Kreider says.

Kreider believes the logic foundations taught in PHI 211 is universally important for all students.

“So what we do is talk about how, in principle, we can take a political argument that somebody’s making and formalize it using the kinds of logic and literally run proofs to see if somebody’s making a good argument for this and that policy,” Kreider says. “It would be helpful for anyone who’s going to write a memo for their boss … or make a good argument in a boardroom presentation or something like that.”

For more information about the Associate of Arts & Sciences degree and its specific requirements, visit UW-Fox’s degree requirements webpage and associate degree planner, and a list NS, LS and MS courses offered at UW-Fox Valley can be found in the course schedules.