UF Quest reimagines the general education experience 

Students at the University of Florida will pursue real world problems and questions through UF Quest, the new curriculum for general education classes that boasts a flexible and diverse series of courses with small student-to-faculty ratios on contemporary topics.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to general education classes, Quest allows students to choose foundational classes that tackle real world problems through multiple disciplines. The first Quest classes UF students take investigate issues through a humanities lens, like “Water into Land, Land into Water” that tells the relationship between Floridia's plentiful waters and the people who have lived here through a historical and environmental perspective. 

The second Quest classes, which will be mandatory for incoming students, tackle societal issues by looking at them from the sciences, from physical and biological to social and behavioral. 

"UF Quest provides students the opportunity to examine  big, world problems in an interdisciplinary way." said Wolpert, director of  UF Quest. "Faculty  have taken  the basic 101 class and flipped  it on its head to get students applying what they learn to contemporary issues long before they graduate."

Last fall, UF professor Lauren Pearlman taught the Quest 1 class, "The Long Civil Rights Movement," a topic she specializes in. After a summer of protests against police brutality, the class took on added urgency.  

"One of the difficult things about teaching this class is sharing so many moments of pain with students. But I also got to share moments of joy, because the Black citizens who fought for civil rights had a vision for what would make society better and the courage to continue fighting for it," she said.

Her class helps students break down the traditional narrative about the civil rights movement that starts with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and ends with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Instead, Pearlman encourages students to see how the movement started earlier, ended later, took place across the country and not just in the South, and featured decades of painstaking work by ordinary citizens to change their communities.

Quest courses give students the knowledge of how to get knowledge by broadening the approach to the questions around them.

This knowledge builds. By the time students graduate, they'll have the framework to use their education in flexible ways to understand the real world problems around them.

UF professor Selman Hershfield's class "Energy and Society" prompts students to think through environmentally conscious, equitable, and politically attainable access to energy in a world whose energy needs continue to expand. 

"We're having problems finding enough energy, that's not new," he said. "You have to think about it quantitatively. It's a numbers game, but the numbers game carries over to economics, and if it doesn't make sense economically, it's not going to happen."

Throughout the course, students learn about different ways of generating energy and the history of what became a mainstream energy source and why. At the end, they proposed solutions to meeting our energy needs.

"Students were very creative in how they combined a particular kind of energy with a particular economic policy. Our goal with Quest is not to give students the answers, but to give them the knowledge so they can begin to develop their own ideas."

Emily Cardinali February 26, 2021