One of four components of Ohio Wesleyan’s new “OWU Connection” is a new first-year course designed to better connect entering OWU students to college, and to help students fully understand and be conversant about their liberal arts learning opportunities. Piloting OWU’s pilot course, “UC 160: The Connection,” which began with the start of fall semester classes, is Ohio Wesleyan Professor of English and new Associate Dean for First-Year Students, Marty Hipsky. The new curricular initiatives, including UC 160, began back in January 2009, culminating in a vote of approval of the pilot course at the April 19, 2010 faculty meeting.
Like any good pilot, Hipsky is a good communicator, self-reliant, observant, goal-oriented, methodical, and doggedly determined to ensure that students are academically successful at OWU.
The 144 new OWU students who are enrolled in the nine UC 160 sections were asked to read Outcasts United, by Warren St. John, over the summer. Throughout the semester-long course, students are meeting weekly to discuss the book. Class outings to an OWU student-run event, a cultural event, and a sporting event, along with written assignments and a collaborative creative project at the end of the semester, are designed to encourage students to look for more than course content and information.
“They are reading, listening, and discussing, with an eye on broad ideas, themes, and directions,” says Hipsky. Although he is not actually teaching a section of the course, Hipsky led his workshop collaborators in creating the syllabus and encouraged the 11 OWU professors, representing all academic disciplines of the University, to develop their sections. Hipsky also is overseeing the course assessments—two surveys and “free-writes” at the beginning of UC 160, in December, and, finally, in September. Another faculty vote will occur in January 2012.
“I see the benefits of the first-year course as multifold,” says journalism professor Melinda Rhodes, one of the UC 160 instructors. “From a broad perspective, students transitioning from home to college have access to information about OWU’s resources, curriculum, and community.” Rhodes’ course collaborator is Kimberlie Goldsberry, Dean of Student Life at OWU. They introduced early on the value of developing a network on campus, and how that network might include professors, staff members, administrators, and peers, Rhodes explains.
“Academically, we’re able to guide the students’ understanding of the liberal arts, which is the defining characteristic of an OWU education,” she says. “I hope they all emerge with an understanding of the wealth of knowledge available to them from a variety of perspectives and their own ability to cross and merge disciplines in a way that nourishes their intellectual development and character.” Another UC 160 professor, psychology professor Dick Leavy, also believes UC 160 can help students grow in many ways.
“They can develop a sense of community, not only in the course among their classmates, but with the school in general. They will grow intellectually as they learn about the range of disciplines in the liberal arts. And by intentionally challenging them to experience people and situations outside their normal experience, it will help them grow as people,” he says. “ UC 160 also promises to be a very satisfying opportunity for me as a teacher.” Hipsky sees the course as being a gateway to other elements of the OWU Connection initiative, including international travel-learning opportunities, theory-to-practice experiences, and a keener understanding of diversity and the importance of interacting with others who are from different ethnic, cultural, and ideological backgrounds. OWU President Rock Jones fully agrees.
“The first-year seminar offers an important new opportunity for students to integrate into the academic program at Ohio Wesleyan,” he says. “I am gratified by the large number of faculty who expressed interest in teaching the course, and I have heard excellent early reports from students. There was quite a buzz at the freshman lunch held at Pritchard House two weeks ago, as students shared with one another their impressions of Outcasts United, the book students enrolled in UC 160 were required to read over the summer. There is value to the campus and to individual students in a shared intellectual experience like that offered in this course and reflected in the common reading that becomes an engaging focus of conversation.”
Look for more stories about the OWU Connection in future editions of Connect2 OWU.