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Timeline of Cornerstone

The Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts Program offers all Purdue undergraduate students the opportunity to fulfill many of their University Core Curriculum courses through a coherent series of classes that complement their academic major area of study. It begins with an enriched first-year sequence anchored in transformative texts and is designed to work with all degree programs.

The first Cornerstone courses, SCLA 101 Transformative Texts, Critical Thinking and Communication I: Antiquity to Modernity, and SCLA 102 Transformative Texts, Critical Thinking and Communication II: Modern World, were offered in Fall 2017 to about 100 students. In Fall 2020, over 2,200 students are enrolled in the courses.


The first hint of what would become Cornerstone dates to early 2015 in a letter to the Purdue community from Purdue President Mitch Daniels. Citing a series of statistics about the class of 2014, he pointed out that only 40% had taken an economics class, only 45% had taken sociology, 23% philosophy and 15% or fewer had completed one government course, one literature course, or an American history course. In response to this trend, he noted,

“Our Provost [Deba Dutta] and Liberal Arts dean will be working with the faculty on ways to refine the current Core Curriculum to make sure that future Boilermakers to do not leave West Lafayette without having encountered the essential facts and ideas central to the preservation and success of a free society.”

This letter came weeks after David A. Reingold was named the Justin S. Morrill Dean of Liberal Arts and two months before he arrived on the West Lafayette campus to begin the assignment.

Daniels followed up later that year, encouraging the incoming class of students to be more purposeful with their electives. He urged students to take at least one course in history, philosophy and literature as part of their Purdue studies.

In response, Dean Reingold convened a task force of faculty in June 2015. The task force was charged with drafting a plan to develop an integrated program in liberal arts. A report suggesting a framework for the as yet unnamed program was delivered in September 2015.


To develop the academic program, Dr. Melinda Zook, professor of history, was named the inaugural director of the Integrated Program in Liberal Arts in April 2016. Professor Zook led the initiative from the Dean’s Office and worked in concert with a group of Faculty Fellows to develop and propose the program’s curriculum. In August of that year, the name Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts was adopted. The program was first introduced to the Purdue Board of Trustees and Provost in September.

That spring and summer, Dean Reingold worked with campus academic leadership and Professor Zook reached out to administrators and faculty in Engineering, Nursing, Pharmacy, Technology, Science, Management, Health Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine. Across the board, they pointed to students’ weak communication skills and their lack of knowledge about the wider world. She shared early plans for the new program centered around themes suggested by Dean Reingold. The purposeful pathway it gave students to fulfill their general education requirements was often noted.

Professor Zook enlisted the help of seven Liberal Arts colleagues (Christopher Lukasik, Associate Professor of English; Kim Gallon, Assistant Professor of History; Yvonne Pitts, Associate of History; Jeffrey Turco, Associate Professor of German; Patrick Kain; Associate Professor of Philosophy, Molly Scudder, Assistant Professor of Political Science, and Antonia Syson, Associate Professor of Classics). Through the 2016-17 academic year, Dr. Zook and her Faculty Fellows developed the curriculum for the Cornerstone certificate as well as the first-year sequence: Transformative Texts SCLA 101 and 102.

Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Joel Ebarb led the effort to secure approval for the certificate among the University’s associate deans. He also worked through the curriculum approval process with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), the College, and submitted the first-year courses to the University Core Curriculum (UCC) as options to fulfill requirements for Written Communication and Information Literary (SCLA 101) and Oral Communication (SCLA 102).


In the spring of 2017, the approvals rolled in. UCC: SCLA 102 (3.23.2017), SCLA 101 (4.17.2017), Certificate (CLA Senate 4.18.2020 and ICHE 5.18.2017).

All of this cleared the way for the first set of SCLA 101 and 102 courses to be offered in Fall 2017. About 100 students enrolled in 2017-18 as work continued to encourage the updating of academic Plans of Study across campus to allow students to choose from these options for the UCC requirements.


With many campus plans of study updated and a strategic scale up of the program, Cornerstone enrollments were robust for Fall 2018 with 990 students. In Fall 2019 that grew to 1,869 and in Fall 2020 it exceeded 2,200 students in courses offered in-person and online in response to COVID-19.

Recognition of Cornerstone and its impact grew as well.

A September 2018 op-ed by Dean Reingold in the Washington Post pointed to Cornerstone as a remedy for an overly specialized STEM curriculum, which had come under fire earlier in the summer in a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Just two months later, Purdue President Mitch Daniels received the Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education. His remarks cited the Cornerstone program for equipping “STEM graduates with the essentials of liberal education.” The Award honors individuals who advance liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western civilization and American history.


November 2019 saw major articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education featuring Cornerstone in back to back weeks. The first asked: Can You Get Students Interested in the Humanities Again? while the second touted it as a modern Great Books solution.


Only three years after first teaching Cornerstone’s introductory courses, in September 2020, the program was recognized as the inspiration for a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Teagle Foundation. Together, they will sponsor Cornerstone: Learning for Living, a grant program to reinvigorate the role of the humanities in general education across the country. NEH committed a minimum of $7 million to the project. The Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative is designed, through general education, to provide all students with the opportunity to broaden their understanding of the world and themselves, while strengthening the skills to read closely, write clearly, speak with confidence, and to engage with differing viewpoints and perspectives—all capacities cultivated by the humanities that are crucial for participation in our democracy.