Discovery Tier themes


The Core Curriculum Implementation Committee (CCIC) received over 50 theme suggestions from contributors representing multipel colleges on campus. The CCIC narrowed and combined these themes to select 7 themes..

Departments and faculty are invited to submit courses for the Disovery Tier. Course submissions are due November 20th.


Individuals and Communities

The nature of the relationship between the individual and the community remains a perennial question, at the heart of technological, political, religious, and ecological thought. One cannot understand prominent human trends—like the tendency, both in history and in the present day, to cluster populations in urban environments—without attending to the longings of the individual for community and the reliance of the community on the individual. Yet the relationship between these two is fraught with ambiguity and tension. On the one hand, communities have amplified humanity’s potential to overcome injustice, suffering, and human limitations. Communities have enabled individuals to mobilize, innovate, and act collectively for the common good. On the other hand, communities have also identified, stigmatized, and exterminated outsiders. By utilizing tools of oppression, such as prejudice and discrimination, communities have also stifled progress and catered to fears, bigotry and hatred.

To explore these ideas, courses in this theme might focus on specific communities, such as the Marquette University community; they might examine individual cities, like Milwaukee, as geographically-defined communities that have shaped—and been shaped by—the individuals who live there; or they might refer to community as a unit of analysis more generally to examine “community-level” processes such as racial segregation, civic engagement, public education, small business development, healthcare, and civil engineering. Courses congruent with this theme are not restricted to any single understanding or definition of “community” and instead will consider communities of many kinds and scales, and with many purposes: religious, political, intellectual, geographical, ecological, or virtual, to name only few.


Basic Needs and Justice

This theme explores the interrelationship between basic needs and justice. If something is so essential to human life that no human being can survive without it, then access to this basic need would seem to be a matter of justice. Yet the identification of basic needs is not necessarily straightforward. Food, water, clothing, and shelter are all essential for survival, but how much of each constitutes a basic need and how much is a matter of luxury? In what ways have these thresholds been culturally conditioned? Are higher order concerns like healthcare, education, social connection, and freedom from the threat of violence fairly defined as basic needs as well? This theme encourages a fuller study of the nature of the human person and the notion of a fully human life in order to answer these and related questions. At the same time, because the distribution of basic needs is a matter of justice, this theme also invites students to examine how different descriptions of basic needs have influenced the definition of justice and vice versa. At what point does the lack of access to one’s basic needs become an injustice? How should one react to the unjust distribution of basic needs? Can violence be used in the pursuit of justice or are nonviolent means the only option? Who bears the responsibility for ensuring a just distribution? Who (or what) is to blame for an unjust distribution? With a clearer picture of the basic needs that make up a human life and the norms of justice that regulate access to them, students will be prepared to identify and address injustices in the world around them.


Cognition, Language, Memory, and Intelligence

How do we process interactions with the world around us? How do we acquire knowledge? How do we make memories? How does language influence how we think? How do social interactions change how we think? How do we imagine things and events we've not experienced? How do new technologies change how we think? Why and how do the answers to these questions change over the course of one's life? How does lifestyle, injury or disease affect these processes? What is artificial intelligence, and how is artificial intelligence in computers and machines different from human intelligence?

Students choosing this theme will study the mind from a variety of perspectives, including: neurocognitive processes of early childhood and adult brain development, mental disorder, trauma, and PTSD; language acquisition, speech pathology, and the cognitive operations of multilingualism and translation; artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science; and reflections on and representations and understandings of the workings of the human mind in history, theology, philosophy, literature and languages, and communications and media studies.

Creativity and Technology

The theme of Creativity and Technology acknowledges that creativity is at the root of all humanistic arts and scientific advancements. Technology is an integral component of our everyday lives in the twenty-first century, but we rarely study it from the perspective of creativity. This theme engages in the long-standing tradition of the liberal arts education, exploring connections across arts, sciences, business, communication, and engineering. In this theme students could explore how creativity drives technology to transform the arts, including film, television, theatre, and music. Another approach might investigate the interplay between creativity and technological advancements that have transformed human life, such as through innovations in healthcare. This theme can address cultural and technological change from multiple angles—the positive aspects that have made human existence more livable and productive, as well as the limits of technology.

Environment and Sustainability: Care for Our Common Home

Environment and Sustainability focuses on the interplay between humans and the environment. Discovery courses in this theme will explore how humans interact with the environment, and the environment’s effect on society. Recent human activity has had such an impact on the environment that some have coined this time in history the “anthropocene” geological era. Courses in this theme investigate how we have exploited natural resources, how we have organized societies and civilization, and our relationship to the natural world from humanistic and theological perspectives. The theme explores several pressing questions:  What are the causes and consequences of environmental change on human history and how does affecting all aspects of our way of life, from basic needs to national borders? What can be done about climate change, pollution and the depletion of natural resources? What policies and actions are needed to revise trend? What are our moral and ethical obligations to the care for the environment. They canstudy the artistic expressions and ethical and moral dimensions of environmental damage. Thus, this theme includes a wide range of scholarly disciplines, from theology (for example, Pope Francis’ encyclical laudato si) to chemistry.

Exploring the Unknown

One of the defining characteristics of human beings is our desire to understand the unknown. We spend much of our lives seeking the origins of crucial ideas, probing the boundaries of the universe, exploring uncharted frontiers, and investigating unsolved mysteries. Every person, community, and society, in its own set of origin stories, key moments of imagination and discovery, and essential developments of ideas and values, is defined by its efforts to transcend the unknown.Yet each new discovery reveals additional limitations that must be explored if knowledge and understanding are to proceed. The human quest for meaning is only possible in and through the unknown.

Courses in this theme will be framed by the notion that our search for knowledge, truth, inspiration, salvation, and meaning—in the past and in the present—is, in fact, an invitation to encounter the unknown and to explore it by asking probing questions, pursuing appropriate evidence, articulating plausible answers, and appreciating what still remains unknown.Courses in this theme will not simply provide the histories of political institutions, narratives of scientific discoveries, or interpretations of literature.Rather, they will focus on the problem of exploration and the tools our disciplines can deploy to find meaning in mystery, knowledge amidst the unknown, and understanding from the origin stories that still resonate in the present.


Crossing Boundaries: The movement of people, goods, and ideas

As our world grows “smaller,” our everyday lives are increasingly affected by global events. This theme is designed for students interested in global connections and their impacts both local and far away. Historically cultures intermingle, adopt, communicate with each other through voluntarily (migration/immigration) and involuntarily (war, conflict, and displacement) movement of people, ideas, and goods. Migration of people across political boundaries is a social, political, scientific, and economic issue, presenting both great challenges and great opportunities. Migration also has a scientific perception: scientists investigate topics as diverse as gene migration, population genetics, and the psychological effect of migration on the young minds and adult behavior. Currently, scarcely any country in the world is not affected in some way by migration. Not only does migration reward interdisciplinary study; it demands it, if we are to begin to grasp its complexity and respond effectively. Students studying this theme will investigate a wide range of questions about global boundaries, from a wide range of perspectives: Why does migration occur? What effects does it have on migrating peoples and on those who receive migrants? How do our concepts of political sovereignty and economic justice shape our responses to migration, and how might migration shape those concepts in turn? How can international, national, and local communities work together to relieve suffering and distribute resources equitably?



Marquette University

About the revision

In May 2015, President Michael R. Lovell and Provost Dan Myers issued a campus-wide charge to revise and revitalize the University Core of Common Studies in light of 21st-century pedagogical research and our continuing commitment to Jesuit higher education.

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Quick Links

List of Approved MCC courses

Discovery Themes

List of Core Curriculum Committee Members

Summary of Core Curriculum Outcomes