Psychological Science & the Liberal Arts:

Integrating the psychology major with the general education curriculum

Adopted by the Department of Psychology Faculty 04.04.08

The Psychology Department’s mission is to foster a community of scholars committed to the science of psychology, as an epistemology and as a set of practical tools and ethical obligations. As Psychology faculty, we understand the department’s mission within the historic context of the classical liberal arts and sciences. We strive to educate our students to be broadly educated and capable of understanding facts, exercising values, and reflecting critically. We view our students’ work in the major as an integral part of their broader vocational journey, as they prepare for lives of “thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care…for other people, for their communities, and for the earth.”

Our curriculum exposes majors to varied theoretical approaches, and both basic and applied research literatures. Our courses encourage students to: examine their values and ethical responsibilities; appreciate the diversity of human experience; acquire the theories, facts, methods, and statistical tools that define the core of our discipline; apply their knowledge in a range of settings (e.g., the workplace, community, or clinic); learn experientially through internships, research practica, and teaching apprenticeships; and communicate their understanding through their capstone projects and participation in the biannual Department of Psychology Student Research Conference.

Students’ learning in the psychology major enhances their general education at PLU and allows them to engage more fully in on-going campus conversations about the human condition. As students progress systematically through their major milestones in Psychology, they acquire a set of basic tools they will need for a reflective life: multiple ways of framing problems, informed and creative means for generating possible solutions, empirical methods for testing solutions, and ethical standards for weighing outcomes. They also develop personal qualities–such as cognitive flexibility, emotional maturity, and personal integrity–required for using these tools effectively.

Likewise, students’ general education enhances their vocational journey and their development as majors. As students explore a broad range of disciplines, they “gain an appreciation of the ways in which educated people understand themselves and the world.” The humanities offer our students resources that address vital questions about how we shape good, meaningful, and beautiful lives–questions that our discipline still struggles to address. The social sciences expose our students to larger contexts in which to explore human behavior—-historical processes, economic realities, political movements, and cultural influences. Mathematics and the natural sciences reinforce our students’ understanding of psychology’s fundamental methodologies of inquiry and analysis.

The breadth of imagination the general education program produces is the basic foundation for the architecture of intellectual and personal qualities we, as faculty, aim to construct with our majors. This architecture is prerequisite to our majors’ vocational goals and provides our students with practical advantages in a competitive, global career marketplace–one that increasingly demands flexibility of thought, the capacity to entertain multiple perspectives, and the ability to employ diverse problem-solving strategies. This architecture is a necessary condition for the lives of thoughtful vocational service that are this university’s particular mission and for the lives of civic virtue that are the mission of any university in a democracy.