This spring’s student forums will come as a breath of fresh air to those who long for untraditional courses taught entirely by undergraduate students. From tap dance to collaborative college farming, these courses explore a wide range of fascinating and relevant topics. Just a few of them are described here.

WOODWORKING AND FURNITURE MAKING

Teachers: Andrew Zack ’09, Government major; George Bennum ’09, Earth and Environmental Sciences major.

Two experienced carpenters, Zack and Bennum, are putting their formidable skills and the University’s wood workshop to good use by teaching a “Woodworking and Furniture Making” forum this spring.

Over the first half of the semester, forum participants will complete a number of smaller projects, the first of which is designed to introduce students to different types of joinery—techniques of attaching pieces of wood to one another.

The final project, which will span the second half of the semester, will have the whole class working together to design a furniture set intended for a college dorm. Then each person in the class will build one of the pieces.

“I’d love this to be like the class I took in high school, so everyone comes out with the ability to create something by themselves,” Bennum said.

Both Bennum and Zack expressed their passion for the craft. Zack noted the satisfaction he derives from the physicality of his accomplishments.

“You spend so much time working on a paper, and you don’t end up with anything physical, except a stack of papers,” Zack said. “So, it’s nice to have something that I made myself. It’s just a satisfying thing to do.”

Bennum, on the other hand, explained that part of what attracts him to woodworking is the independence the craft offers him.

“I love the way I don’t really have to answer to anyone else,” Bennum said. “I’m doing all the design. I’m doing all the work. I’m in control. I love working with my hands. When you finish a piece, it’s just gorgeous. It feels like a part of you. The feel of the wood when you’ve sanded it is just so gorgeous.”

ENVIRONMENTAL ARTWORK: ARTISTIC RESPONSES TO GLOBAL AND LOCAL ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Teachers: Alexandra Provo ’10, Art History major; Rachel Fischhoff ’08, Dance and American Studies major.

Provo and Fischhoff decided that they wanted to use their creative talents to call attention to one of today’s hottest topics: climate change. The class, “Environmental Artwork: Artistic Responses to Global and Local Environmental Issues” is related to the Feet to the Fire Festival, which the University is holding this May.

“I was working last semester with the Center for Creative Research, which is organizing the festival, so this kind of grew out of my involvement with them,” Fischhoff said.

Provo, who is on the Feet to the Fire Festival Community Planning Committee, thought this would be a great way for students to create art for the festival, earn a class credit and also get some background about the type of artwork they will later produce.

“We wanted to make sure that the content of the forum included specific examples of environmental artwork, framed by art theory and aesthetic theory, as well as scientific background on issues that artists had addressed in the past, or that students might want to address now,” Fischhoff said.

Fischhoff and Provo hope that the students who sign up will take an active part in the forum. There will be weekly readings and discussions, but participants will also be required to conduct independent research for their projects.

“I hope that people become informed citizen-artists, understand an issue, do some research and don’t just react to it superficially,” Provo said. “We also want them to get a sense of what’s come before them, how people have engaged with environmental issues in the past.”

FEMINIST SEXUALITY

Teacher: Lola Pellegrino ’08, Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies (FGSS)

Pellegrino has also spotted a gap in the University’s curriculum. She feels that there is a difference between reading about sexuality in an academic way and dealing with issues that are applicable to one’s own life. In an effort to bridge that divide, she has decided to facilitate a “Feminist Sexuality” forum.

“I don’t want to say that it’s a waste talking about theoretical sexuality, but it is lacking,” she said. “Queer, feminist and women of color issues are rarely discussed in the classroom together, and neither are issues faced by people with disabilities. We just wanted the forum to be very inclusive.”

This discussion-based class will have a demanding reading list, which will include many academic articles chosen specifically for their narrative characteristics. Many of the meetings will begin with an hour-long workshop, most likely featuring guest speakers and topical documentaries. The workshops will be open to students who are not enrolled in the forum itself.

“We wanted it to be really practical and as open and as educational as possible,” Pellegrino said.

Pellegrino noted that applicants to the forum agreed that many of the University’s other FGSS classes fail to address certain key issues.

“One applicant felt that issues of race are almost never addressed,” Pellegrino said. “I myself found that a lot of things were just impractical and that it was just the same sexual theory over and over again. We want people to go in with the theoretical stuff and with personal issues they’ve had, social and political issues and stuff they’ve thought about individually, and then sort of reconcile the two. Then they can leave having thought about all of them and will be able to educate other people.”

SOCIOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO EDUCATION

Teachers: Argenys Taveras ’08, Psychology major; Michael Bolds ’08, African American Studies major

Taveras and Bolds have taken on the task of organizing the “Sociological Approaches to Education” forum. Both seniors help run Traverse Square, an after school tutoring program in Middletown. Participants of the forum will work at Traverse Square two days a week.

Taveras, who has worked with children since his freshman year of high school, hopes the forum will instill key teaching skills into its participants.

“This is our way of building a core of tutors, who know what they’re talking about,” Taveras said.

Jay MacLeod’s book about the achievement gap, “Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood,” is on the syllabus, as are many articles about bilingualism.

“We’re trying to keep the reading very close to the reality at the center,” Taveras said. “The texts will be about how teachers teach, and how they inspire. Most of the kids we will talk about are underserved by the system, so poor and brown kids, who don’t get the most out of their education.”

Taveras and Bolds want participants in the forum to have a genuine interest in education.

“I think it’ll be a good class, and I’m excited about teaching it,” Taveras said. “I hope that people will still remember some of what they learned in the forum and use it when they graduate and work with kids.”

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