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College seminar proves popular

Luisa Cabrera | Thursday, September 22, 2005

Although senior Jocelyn Burum felt that the small size of her Core class allowed her to get to know other people, she found major differences between varying sections of the same required Arts and Letters class unfair.

Arts and Letters professors agreed the Core program was problematic and replaced it with a required one-semester College Seminar in 2004.

Professors felt that the year-long Core course, which Arts and Letters students were required to take during their sophomore year, was much too generalized and that students were greatly dissatisfied with how the course was run.

“In the past 25 years, the faculty has changed greatly, and people are far too specialized for a broad course like Core,” said George Howard, former director of both the College Seminar and Core program. “Faculty members are now able to pick their specialized areas. Each instructor chooses a topic that she or he can handle, in opposition to the Core course, where the topics were much too general.”

The improved College Seminar is very similar to Core in the sense that it encompasses so many aspects of the Arts and Letters curriculum. However, it allows the professors to choose topics that interest them and relieves them of the pressure of teaching a yearlong course.

Professor Wendy Arons, who teaches the College Seminar “Work, Consumption, and Culture,” said while she enjoys developing close relationships over a full year with students, the restructuring of the course was a good decision.

She expressed that Core was not achieving the goals that originally been set and that the changes were necessary in order for the program to be successful.

“Students and teachers are much more enthusiastic about the advantages of the College Seminar,” said Arons. “Instructors greatly benefit from no longer having a fixed syllabus, even though the topics are big stretches, which carries over from Core. It’s now fun because it is still interdisciplinary, but with topics that I am interested in and that I’m jazzed about.”

Arons also spoke of the fact that though she is a theater professor, her College Seminar syllabus contained a great deal of anthropology and economics. The idea behind the course layout is that the faculty is able to stretch out beyond disciplinary boundaries of even their own fields. As Arons put it, the instructors are learning side-by-side with the students.

The College Seminar contains elements of all the Arts and Letters fields, such as humanities, social science and fine and performing arts, said the director of College Seminar, Patrick Gaffney.

Every syllabus must contain each of these elements, allowing the students to experience and work with areas beyond their own majors.

“The college seminar is built on a great idea, where each professor decides on an overarching subject – such as war, peace or tragedy – and has all the elements of the Arts and Letters echo throughout all of the topics,” said Gaffney, who is currently teaching a College Seminar as well.

“The College Seminar helps develop leadership skills and encourages students to take an imaginative initiative, giving students the confidence to engage themselves intellectually with others.”

Students currently enrolled in the College Seminar are proving Gaffney right and agree that the improved structure is beneficial to expanding their education.

Sophomore Ale Breuer who is currently enrolled in romance language and literature Professor Patrick Martin’s class, “On Becoming Human,” is one of those students.

“I think that the purpose of the college seminar is to provide a more liberal education for the students,” Breuer said. “A lot of students are so focused on their major that things such as art, literature and philosophy are forgotten, and this program encompasses all of these things. It helps me to think outside the box and gives a variety to our education.”

Breuer said that she loved her seminar and thought that it was very successful in providing a motivating and interesting interdisciplinary course.

The College Seminar is not only focused on the various curriculua of Arts and Letters, but also on the importance of the oral-intensive nature of the class, with professors grading students based on oral assignment, class participation and oral exams.

Katie McArdle, a sophomore political science major, said the College Seminar was preparing her for the future.

“I think it gives students much better speaking, writing and listening skills,” said McArdle. “It allows us to think on our feet because the course is based on articulating ourselves better. I think that it will help us seem more professional and better spoken when we are in the professional world.”