Curriculum work paves the way for semester conversion

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As a professor of electrical, computer and telecommunications engineering technology, George Zion points to curriculum development as his priority focus.

“It’s always been my thing,” he says. “I like the process. I like knowing about it and working on it.”

So having cut his teeth serving more than 10 years as a member of the Institute Curriculum Committee, Zion has assumed a leading role in RIT’s upcoming calendar conversion. Work continues at preparing the university for its switch from quarters to semesters in fall 2013.

As chair of the Cross-Disciplinary Committee, it is Zion’s responsibility to help resolve issues identified by representatives of the nine colleges due to the conversion. During the past year, most of the discussion involved redeveloping the university’s curriculum and how it ultimately comes together under a semester model.

Zion has witnessed some obstacles. For example, there were early questions concerning the impact of the university’s new general education requirements. Also, how would the conversion accommodate yearlong sequence courses—common among the university’s art, science, engineering and engineering technology disciplines? Typical RIT undergraduates will take five three-credit courses per semester, but it’s expected some sequence courses will remain four-credit hours.

“The biggest challenge was not knowing what we didn’t know,” explains Zion. “But by working within our program framework, when problems came up we solved them.”

After proposed changes are reviewed by the various curriculum committees, they are brought before the Academic Senate and then sent to the New York State Department of Education for approval. About 135 undergraduate and graduate programs have been given the green light internally, and more than a third of those programs have received state approval.

Fernando Naveda, RIT’s calendar conversion director, says the focus now pivots toward program delivery. Setting up a system for student advising is among the top priorities. Training for new advisors soon gets under way with an emphasis on helping students navigate the transition to semesters without negative impact on their academic progress. In addition, faculty members are being encouraged to think about what their courses will look like under a semester model.

“This presents an opportunity to create a better learning environment for our students,” says Naveda. “The provost has encouraged us to look at alternative course delivery models that make use of new and more effective classroom and distance learning technologies while leveraging the 15-week semesters to create exciting academic experiences for our students.”

That’s one aspect of semesters that Zion finds particularly exciting. The time-compressed nature of the quarter system limits what can be achieved in labs and with class projects. Having an extra five weeks of study, he thinks, will create broader opportunities for more meaningful exploration and discovery.

Zion says juggling the calendar conversion with his responsibilities in the classroom is a lot of work, but he’s happy to play a part in this transformation.

“I’ve always been a person that likes change. It keeps you from getting stagnant.”

For more information and updates on the RIT semester conversion, go to