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The Core Capacities

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Students navigate the A&S College Core by developing capacities that are woven through and practiced across the curriculum. The five Core Capacities are:

  • Written & Creative Expression
  • Systemic & Structural Reasoning
  • Cultural & Interpretive Investigation
  • Data Literacy & Computational Thinking
  • Ethical & Social Engagement

Each of these capacities is critically important, and each is taught across all divisions of the college (humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences). Students are introduced to the capacities in the First-Year Core, pursue them further in the Exploratory Core, then build on these foundations as they move into more advanced, concentrated study. The overall goal is not only to clarify for students what they are learning, but also to demonstrate that they can and should carry that learning from one course into another and into their majors and minors.

Classes outside of the First-Year Core can carry up to two capacities. This allows more flexibility in how students fulfill the requirement and tracks with how many faculty think about what transpires in their classes.

Not all courses offered in A&S will be tagged with capacities. Capacity tags are only for broad introductory courses keyed to specific learning goals and accessible to majors and non-majors alike. In this curriculum, courses tagged with capacities aim for breadth and general competencies, complementing the depth and specialized skills that students will gain through coursework in their chosen disciplines and elective courses.

Below are descriptions and learning outcomes for each of the Core Capacities. Please also view the full rubrics for each capacity.


Cultivating expression that informs and inspires, whether on the page, stage, screen, or canvas

Effective use of written language is essential for thinking precisely, for building bridges across existing divides, and for conceiving alternative futures. To communicate confidently and creatively, we must be able to present ideas clearly, and to adjust our modes and registers of expression for different audiences. Because skillful writing matters as never before in an age of computer-assisted text production, these courses center the written word but also invite students to experiment with media such as the diagram, the podcast, and the paintbrush—all powerful tools to communicate within and about our world.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Use of clear, organized, proficient language to express ideas in written or spoken form.
  2. Use appropriate evidence or materials to create an argument and persuade an audience.
  3. Use of imagination to provide insight in a unique work.

Analyzing complex systems, whether molecules, formal theories, or societies

The natural and social world is made up of interacting systems, where any individual component is influenced by multiple forces and, in turn, influences many others. To grasp problems and opportunities in this complex environment, we must be able to analyze intricate relationships, consider possible ramifications of change, and predict the outcome of specific interventions. Whether considering cellular events involved in carcinogenesis, traffic patterns that affect daily carbon release, or social systems that produce structural racism, these courses equip students to tackle highly challenging problems.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Form a hypothesis or thesis about important problems or solutions.
  2. Employ diverse approaches to address problems with critical reasoning.
  3. Integrate alternative, divergent, or contradictory perspectives.
  4. Predict potential effects of changes to a system.

Deepening our understanding of cultures familiar and unfamiliar, past and present

A wealth of languages, values, histories, and traditions make up the human record—shaping the experiences of individuals and groups, the artifacts and archives they create, and the configuration of our global present. To navigate this variegated landscape, we must read, listen, and observe closely, locate our own assumptions, and attend to the settings in which knowledge is produced. Whether concerned with ancient architecture or modern languages, the transnational migrations of people or of ideas, these courses prepare students to approach cultural differences with empathy and imagination.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Recognize varying cultural traditions, histories, values, and beliefs.
  2. Understand the social and cultural frameworks in which knowledge is produced.
  3. Analyze and synthesize information to draw inferences or create new knowledge.
  4. Identify one’s own cultural assumptions to skillfully negotiate across differences.

Evaluating and employing varied kinds of evidence, from statistics to stories

To make informed and independent decisions, we must be able to critically evaluate a variety of information sources, interrogate their origins, and analyze their significance. Scientific methods and quantitative reasoning are key to such determinations, especially in data-rich and computer-enabled settings. Whether weighing competing public health narratives, the validity of mathematical models for financial markets, or the implications of disinformation for democratic processes, these courses help students clarify problems for which data are abundant but meaning may be obscure.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Acquire or create data using methods that have a sound scientific basis.
  2. Evaluate data for quality and bias in service to a specific goal with sensitivity to context.
  3. Use appropriate tools to analyze data to increase information value.
  4. Convey empirical results as a persuasive, logical argument.

Examining power, justice, and responsibility, in settings ranging from the classroom to the planet

Challenging ethical questions confront us in every domain of life. What moral obligation do we have to ourselves, to each other, to our local, national, and global communities, and to the non- human world? Whether considering collective responsibility for global income disparities, the role of social values in the design of technological systems, or the relationship between historical and contemporary wrongs like sexism and racism, these courses ask students to interrogate their own beliefs and take on the perspectives of diverse others in order to reason carefully about matters of justice, equity, and power.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Identify ethical questions concerning individual and collective responsibility and their implications.
  2. Recognize historical realities and contemporary factors that contribute to power dynamics within and between societies.
  3. Examine and interpret experiences from multiple perspectives.