Picture this: an economist, philosopher, cinematographer, and an engineer sit down to discuss the ethical and practical concerns of sending humans to Mars. No, this isn’t some weird riddle; this is my Friday 9 am discussion for my Thematic Option class (titled Searching for Life in the Universe: Mars and Beyond), and despite being on Fridays at 9 am it’s a pretty fun time.
Thematic Option (TO) is the honors GE alternative here at USC, meaning it’s a separate system for fulfilling those general education requirements, and in a slightly different way. TO accepts 200 students in each incoming freshman class (meaning yes, another application to write, which is yes, annoying but also so worth it). The classes are kept extremely small, and are taught by professors who don’t normally teach GE courses and are always excited to meet their new TO students. The courses are designed to be highly interdisciplinary, so though my Mars class was under the TO theme The Process of Change in Science, we learned some microbiology, some history, some policy, some technical theory, some astronomy, and focused on the intersection of these many aspects of space science (there was even some banjo playing, but that’s a different story). Every TO class I have taken has taken a holistic approach to the topic at hand, leading to some fascinating lectures, and truly provocative discussions.
TO is sometimes nicknamed Traumatic Option (clever rhyming right?) because there is a big emphasis on reading and writing. Let me say that again, there’s a big emphasis on reading and writing, and the expectations are high. My first week of USC, my first TO assignment was to read The Heart of Darkness in three days. But, these assignments are never trivial (which let’s be honest, some class assignments are), and pose such interesting questions that even if you’re writing a seven-page paper you might actually enjoy it (might)! If you’re prepared to work hard, you will reap such rewards. So if meeting incredibly intelligent students from all over USC’s campus, creating relationships with highly influential professors, and developing your skills not just as a student but as a thinker interest you, I 10/10 recommend heading to http://dornsife.usc.edu/thematic-option/ to learn more about the amazing things going on in TO!