September 12, 2008
Over the summer, we require our first year students to read a book, something we've chosen with an environmental theme, something current and thought-provoking. Then during the third week of classes, we gather the students on campus, invite faculty and staff to join us, and split into small groups to talk about the book. Small Green College is a research institution, and most of my colleagues are scientists. Even as they volunteer to facilitate the discussion groups, they tease me about the event. "We're not a liberal arts college," they remind me.
Since I'm in charge of the event, I don't facilitate a small group, but walk around to make sure everything's okay. Once each group seems to be going fine and all late-coming students have been assimilated, I'll choose a group and nudge my way between two students sitting on the grass. It's interesting for me, as someone who has spend a whole lot of time listening to literature professors talk about books, to listen instead to a chemist or a biologist or an architect lead a book discussion. Often a colleague will bring up a point I overlooked completely. Landscape architects will talk about design while the chemists analyze the science in the book.
And of course, the personalities of my colleagues come into play. Ornithology Guy always likes to veer off into tangents that include talking to these first year students about what different scientists on campus study. He's passionate about his work, and that shows. Animal Behavior Guy likes to argue, so he'll play devil's advocate, making statements that get more and more outrageous until finally the students will speak up and disagree with him.
"Books spark ideas," Ornithologist Guy said during his group's conversation. "That's their value." The students in the group began talking about the books that had led them to pursue an education at an environmental school. I looked around me, at the circles of students, sprawled out on the grass, books and backpacks next to them, engaged in conversation. It seemed a good way for these students to begin their college careers.
Posted by jo(e)