Immerse Yourself in Spring Term! It's the most wonderful term of the year, so keep an eye on @wlunews social media and this post for a daily dose of W&L's deeply engaging four-week term.
ENG/ART 215: Creating Comics
Most professors would be annoyed to discover their students doodling in class, but W&L Art Instructor Leigh Ann Beavers and Associate Professor of English Chris Gavaler actually expect to see that kind of behavior in their Spring Term course, Creating Comics.
Beavers and Gavaler, who have taught the course twice before, are teaching this term from their own recently published textbook, “Creating Comics: A Writer’s and Artist’s Guide and Anthology.”
Their methods have evolved along the way. Instead of having students write a script, then draw the panels to match, they instruct them to sketch possible main characters, then allow those sketches to inform the story. For example, one student’s drawings of a bee doing the back float led to a comic about the only lazy bee among its busy brethren. Other characters include a dragon, a micro-bunny, a mermaid living in London and a dog-headed skateboarder.
“I am an English major who is double minoring in studio art and creative writing, so this class seemed meant to be,” Audrey Dietz ’23 said. “I love graphic novels and art, so I was naturally interested in a course that not only allows you to replicate comics, but also teaches you the ins and outs of why artists and creators do what they do.”
Creating Comics is not just a fun course; it counts as both an English and a studio art class and offers lessons in creative writing, drawing and time management. By the end of the four-week term, students must complete a 12-page comic book that includes illustrated back and front covers.
“One of the most important take-aways for students, other than a heightened appreciation for the potential of serial imagery, is the awareness that you can make a complete comic or graphic something incredibly substantial in four weeks,” Beavers said. “The class is intense in a joyful way, lots of hard work that constantly generates surprising and interesting products.
EDUC 230 Educating Citizens for Democracy
What is democracy? That’s the big, overarching question that Eric Moffa, assistant professor of education, uses to frame his class on Educating Citizens for Democracy.
“In order to be good citizens, we have to have a good sense of what democracy is,” Moffa said. “Are we a democracy or a republic? And what is the role of a citizen in a democracy? Once we examine different conceptualizations of citizenship, then we can unpack the ways the U.S. can form education policy. There are lots of unsettled questions regarding best practices and policies for how we educate citizens for democracy.”
Moffa spends very little time talking, letting students take the lead in investigating and debating the merits and weakness of various educational approaches. Students analyze and evaluate historic and philosophical texts, from Plato and Jefferson to W.E.B. Du Bois and Arthur Schlesinger. Small teams read journal articles and guide classroom discussions on the challenges of civic education in modern U.S. political and social contexts. The final project requires students to utilize narrative inquiry, interviewing former teachers who are at the frontlines of K-12 education.
“I want my students to be able to make informed decisions, to develop their own abilities to engage one another in deliberative discussions,” Moffa said. “The goal isn’t always to win a debate, but to develop a shared understanding. Democracy is a constant work in progress, and it changes because of multiple factors at play. Students should care what we, as a nation, are doing on a day-to-day basis to educate our citizens. Our discussions will give them the foundation to critically examine various theories of democracy, competing conceptions of citizenship and its implications for formal education.”
291B: Ethnohistory of W&L’s Past
It’s impossible to shoehorn 272 years of W&L history into a four-week term, but Lynn Rainville, the university’s director of institutional history, will cover a large chunk of the school’s past in her fascinating Spring Term anthropology class, Ethnohistory of W&L’s Past.
The course applies interdisciplinary methods to take a closer look at W&L’s historic records and material culture, uncovering little-known stories along the way. The class will spend very little time in a classroom, instead meeting at on-campus sites such as Liberty Hall Ruins and the Robinson obelisk or exploring local graveyards and other historic off-campus landscapes. They’ll also look at art and ceramic collections and check out artifacts and documents in Special Collections.
During the first week, students met at the Ruins, where they pretended to be 18th-century surveyors looking over the original heart of campus. They also approximated random sampling by collecting data about cars in a nearby parking lot. During the term, they will also sketch maps, write essays and make a poster to share at the Spring Term showcase, all with the goal of strengthening their analytical skills and their ability to evaluate multiple layers of information.
“I chose to take this class because I wanted to deepen my understanding of the institution in the context of place and cultural tradition,” Sherman Golden ’23 said. “So far, I’ve had the chance to take a look at the patterns of movement of students, faculty and visitors on our campus, and it has completely changed the way I think about demographics.”
BIOL 322: Plant Functional Ecology
During a typical Spring Term, the students in Biology Professor Bill Hamilton’s Plant Functional Ecology course would be traipsing through the grasslands of Yellowstone National Park and helping Hamilton with his research, which looks at the impact of a growing bison population on the park’s ecology. This year, they’re instead traipsing through the grasslands of the W&L campus, where no buffalo have roamed for a very long time, but there’s still plenty of flora and fauna to study.
“With a campus that is approximately 400 acres with approximately 150 acres of forest, there are plenty of opportunities to use the campus as a laboratory,” Hamilton said. “The variety of vegetation types across that acreage allows for lots of questions to be asked.”
On a recent afternoon, 12 students broke into groups of two to fan out across back and front campus and collect data. They gathered vegetation samples, measured trees, collected soil cores and noted factors such as soil moisture and temperature. Ultimately, they will cover six vegetation types and create a broad-scale campus vegetation and soil carbon map.
By the time the class wraps up, they will have created a soil carbon plan for campus, including recommendations for how to conserve or even increase soil carbon. That exercise is useful for addressing issues such as climate change, storm water management and campus ecology.
Hamilton’s course illustrates the teaching role that W&L’s campus plays in many courses every year, whether students are catching and tagging salamanders in a biology class, conducting geophysical experiments on a back-campus sinkhole with a geology professor, looking at the foundation of an old farmhouse while learning about archaeology, or doing creative writing assignments while sitting beside Woods Creek.
295: Special Topics in Environmental Studies: Nature and Natural Resource Protection Law
One way to teach students about natural resource protection law would be to immediately assign a bunch of statutes and cases to read and analyze, but that’s not how Julie Youngman wanted to go about it for W&L’s Spring Term.
“We’re spending time at the beginning of the term exploring ideas and attitudes about nature and ways that people can protect nature before jumping into reading a lot of court cases enforcing the laws we use to protect natural resources,” said Youngman, an assistant professor of business administration who practiced environmental law for years at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
That exploration will include hiking in both a state park and a wilderness area to compare and contrast the ways in which a government might set aside an area for protection and enjoyment. The class will also feature guest speakers, including environmental lawyers, representatives from nonprofits, and a national park superintendent.
This week, the class took advantage of W&L’s outdoor classroom and Woods Creek to do a contemplative outdoor walk and consider the value of natural areas. Next week, visiting English professor Leah Green, who is also an award-winning poet, will lead the class through a nature writing exercise. In the end, students will produce not only a research paper on legal protections and challenges for natural areas dear to them, but also a creative handmade book.
“I was excited to hear that this class included not only lectures on protection law, but also the opportunity to get outdoors on various field trips,” said Olivia Allen ’23, who is thinking about someday practicing environmental law. “Spring Term has been a great experience for me so far. I love that I can commit all my attention to one class that I am interested in and embrace it fully.”
PHYS 180: Hands-on Technology
In Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics Tom McClain’s first-year Spring Term seminar, Hands-on Technology, it was a battle of battery materials. During a morning lab, students constructed their own batteries to power LED lights using various components. They reconvened in the afternoon to test them, setting off a lively debate not just about the merits of lemon juice versus Coke as an electrolyte, but about measuring performance and how to design an experiment that can resolve a contested question.
“This kind of class, where the focus is on process and methodology rather than on content delivery, is my favorite kind to teach,” McClain said. “I love students getting their hands on materials and discovering for themselves why the enterprise of science works the way it does.”
Jack Hunter ’24 was glad to find the course in the catalog. “I’m not a natural science person,” he said, “but this attracted me because we’d be building and tinkering.”
Hands-on Technology seeks to help students understand some of the most important technologies in our society while teaching them the fundamentals of scientific inquiry. In line with other first-year seminars, which emphasize practical assignments like labs, projects and fieldwork rather than exams, students in the class learn by building, tinkering and testing, creating their own knowledge instead of assimilating ideas from a book.
The battle of battery materials was resolved scientifically. Amid laughter and scrambles for zinc nails, students designed and conducted their own experiments, finding that zinc nails bested steel, copper wire beat aluminum, and Coke electrolyte topped lemon juice, vinegar and salt water to produce the highest voltage.
PE 153: Boot Camp
Some students may have slept in before a late morning or afternoon class on the second day of Spring Term, but students in Brooke O’Brien’s Boot Camp class were up early and burning enough calories to justify an afternoon ice cream or gelato at one of Lexington’s treat shops. Their grueling awakening on Tuesday involved the “100s Challenge,” for which each team of two students had to complete 10 100-yard sprints, 100 sit-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 mountain climbers and a number of other exercises.
Boot Camp, which comprises a variety of challenging workouts, is a popular physical education class at W&L, and Spring Term is a popular time to take PE because the weather is nice and students have, at most, one other class on their schedules. O’Brien, an associate PE professor and head women’s lacrosse coach, said PE classes seem to be in especially high demand this Spring Term because COVID-19 continues to curtail study abroad opportunities, so it’s a good time to complete one of the four PE classes required for graduation.
“I wanted to take Boot Camp because it’s challenging, fun and a great way to start the morning,” Sophie Behdani ’22 said. “I hope to get stronger while also being able to enjoy time outside with friends.”
Physical education classes are an essential part of a W&L education because health and fitness are important elements of a well-rounded individual, O’Brien said.
“Our job is to prepare students to go forward into the world,” she said, “and all the great ways that W&L students are going to impact the world, regardless of their vocation, are definitely only possible if they’re able to live healthy and balanced lives. PE puts wellness and health and activity into the equation for them as students, which hopefully means they’ll learn good habits now and carry them forward.”