UND’s Essential Studies Director Steen is keynote speaker at Northern Illinois symposium on General Education


David L. Dodds

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Arts & Sciences


University of North Dakota Director of Essential Studies Thomas Steen was the keynote speaker Jan. 29, at the Northern Illinois University General Education and Integrative Learning Symposium.

Steen delivered a presentation on the importance of general education, titled "Making the Most Out of General Education." The event was hosted by the General Education Visioning Task Force and the NIU Office of the Provost.

Steen leads an award-winning program in general education, which at UND is known as "Essential Studies."

UND Essential Studies (ES) program is now in its sixth year. In ES, students explore a broad range of courses outside of their majors, refine their learning in key cross-cutting skills such as written and oral communication, critical and creative thinking, and information literacy . They also take ES courses that are specifically designed to help them develop a deeper appreciation and respect for diversity.

Among the innovations in ES are the senior "capstone" courses in which students connect their work in general education with their studies in their majors. UND now has more than 50 different ES capstones, which serve as the culminating undergraduate coursework at UND and which provide students with an exceptional learning experience to apply their university learning in real world contexts.

Steen addressed colleagues, including members of NIU's General Education Visioning Task Force, at a time when NIU is undergoing a process of curricular reform to help its students better meet the needs of 21st century. This 21-member NIU General Education Visioning Task Force comprises faculty, staff and students who will provide the leadership necessary to critically re-evaluate current general education learning goals, their related outcomes and how such outcomes can be most appropriately taught, learned and assessed.

About Thomas Steen:

Currently, besides serving as director of Essential Studies, Steen is the interim chair of the UND Department of Educational Leadership.

Steen has been at UND since 1985. During that time, he's been responsible for the teacher education program in physical education. Besides teaching the Kinesiology and Public Health Education (KPHE) Department'steaching/coaching "methods" courses, he's also taught a number of graduate courses, advised both undergraduate and graduate students, and helped design the department's curriculum (most recently, KPHE's new major in public health education). His scholarly activities have emphasized instructional strategies, curriculum development and sport education.

Steen has also been involved in work across the University in different roles: as interim chair in the departments of Counseling and Educational Foundations & Research, co-chair of the campus General Education Task Force. In August 2008, he was appointed as the first Director of Essential Studies. In 2010, he was recognized with UND's Thomas Clifford award for outstanding faculty development and service.

Following UND's development of Essential Studies, the state's other institutions of higher education started the North Dakota General Education Council. Steen served as the Council's first president in 2011-12, and he now serves as the state liaison for North Dakota's "Quality Collaboratives" project, sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). In the Quality Collaboratives project, North Dakota is one of nine states that are working together to develop statewide general education that feature high quality learning and seamless transferability between campuses.

Steen also serves on the board of the Association of General and Liberal Studies, where he was just re-elected to a second three-year term.

Steen's other professional experience includes being a faculty member and coach at Calvin College (Michigan) and Trinity College (Illinois); physical education teacher and coach at private schools in Michigan and Florida; guest instructor at Augustana University (Sioux Falls, S.D.) and the University of Missouri-Kansas City; and summer camp director in Michigan and New Hampshire. Also, Steen was a boys soccer coach at Grand Forks Red River High school, where he led two teams to state championships and was named state Coach of the Year three times.

Outside of work Tom enjoys fly fishing, canoeing, tennis and cross-country skiing.