September 18, 2023


The Cornerstone Program is a living and learning community designed for accomplished, curious, and ambitious student leaders. Inside the classroom, it is an innovative and interdisciplinary program that integrates the depth and breadth of the humanities into the fabric of a Catholic University education.  Outside of the classroom, students create community through living in the same residence hall and sharing in extracurricular opportunities and trips.  Taken in sum, the program “changes the academic trajectory” of its students, as Anthony Graf, a musical theater major from San Diego puts it.   The numbers also illustrate a tremendously successful first year , as the program saw a 98.2.% retention rate among its first year of students and a 31.4% increase in students in its second year.  The Cornerstone Program is funded through a grant from the Teagle Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Cornerstone is planned around culturally and intellectually diverse transformative texts that challenge students to grow as well-rounded scholars through thoughtful classroom conversations with peers and faculty members. Most Cornerstone classes are taught by full-time faculty starting in a student’s first year.   Students develop exceptional writing and critical thinking skills and the ability to examine diverse opinions with reasoned thought as they relate to complex concepts and challenges facing the world today.  The Gateway courses, offered exclusively to Cornerstone students, revolve around common readings of transformative works of literature on the themes of citizenship and community. These discussion-based courses emphasize the humanities as a way of considering and pursuing meaning and purpose in life stressing various dimensions of good citizenship and the nature of democracy.  After these “Gateways” into the program, students choose from four Pathways based on their interests and majors. These include: Medical Humanities; Philosophy, Politics & Economics; Global Scholars; and Research Scholars. Pathways include grouped courses through the University’s liberal arts curriculum; study abroad opportunities; internships; experiential learning opportunities; and extracurricular activities related to each Pathway.

Unique courses are only one part of the Cornerstone Program; exclusive cultural events and excursions round out a Cornerstone student’s experience.  These include a bi-weekly tea hosted by the director of Cornerstone, Dr. Taryn Okuma of the English Department; the Cornerstone Transformative Texts Film Series, featuring showings and faculty-led discussions of films that engage with themes from the Gateway Courses; semesterly theater trips with faculty, including The Tempest at the Round Theatre and Les Misérables at the Kennedy Center; a semesterly faculty lecture series,  which has featured Dr. Justin Litke from the Politics Department and Dr. Gregory Baker from the English Department; and faculty-led excursions to museums and historical sites, including a tour of protest sites in downtown Washington led by Dr. Steve West of the History Department.  Dr. Okuma also developed metamorphosis, the official Cornerstone Program magazine, as a virtual space for writing and art created by Cornerstone students, faculty, and staff.