High school students get a taste of university life

July 31, 2009

What do you get when you bring some of the Valley’s highest-achieving high school students together for three days in July at Arizona State University’s West campus, offer up sneak previews of psychology and English courses, then ask them to submit a writing and public speaking assignment?

You get the ASU Collegiate Scholars: Student Enrichment Program (ASU-CS: SEP), a no-cost university-level experience in a learning community setting designed to ease students’ transition from high school to higher education. The inaugural program attracted 18 high school students from Glendale, Peoria, Paradise Valley and other local high school districts with a minimum GPA of 3.0 who are interested in attending ASU.

“The CS: SEP program gave the students an initial university exposure in a non-threatening, cooperative learning setting,” says José E. Náñez Sr., an ASU President’s Professor, who also serves as executive director for community outreach in the ASU University Student Initiatives (USI) office.

The program’s academic component focused on the theme of psychology, music and the mind. Náñez, a professor of psychology and neuroscience in the Division">http://newcollege.asu.edu/divisions/sbs/">Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences in ASU">http://newcollege.asu.edu/">ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, lectured on the effects of music on the developing brains of fetuses and infants. Náñez’s New College colleague Darryl Hattenhauer gave a lecture on writing for the university. Hattenhauer, a two-time Fulbright Scholar, is an associate professor in New College’s Division">http://newcollege.asu.edu/divisions/harcs/">Division of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies.

“The lectures were not ‘watered down,’” Náñez says. “Rather, they were actual lectures from English 101 and Psychology 101 that Darryl and I give to ASU freshmen.”

The students also received a tutorial from Tina Drury, one of Náñez’s graduate students, on conducting electronic library searches. Náñez invited Jana Sirotnik, an upperclassman in psychology, to give a short PowerPoint presentation she had delivered in Náñez's Developmental Psychology course earlier in the year.

The students were divided into small groups and received support from five undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants in preparing PowerPoint presentations. Group topics concerned the effects of music prenatally, during infancy, childhood and adolescence, and adulthood. On the event’s final day, the students delivered their group PowerPoint presentations to their classmates, faculty, teaching assistants and parents in attendance.

“The students discovered that even though they never experienced a university course in the past, they are, in fact, capable of doing so successfully if they work diligently and cooperate with their instructors, fellow students and teaching support staff,” Náñez says.

In addition to the lectures and coursework, students received information about financial aid and toured the growing West campus and its apartment-style residence facility, Las Casas. Representatives from ASU University Student Initiatives were on hand each day of CS: SEP to provide information and guidance on university processes and programming.

“We were extremely pleased by the positive feedback we received from the program’s participants,” says Mark Duplissis, executive director for high school relations, and director of the Collegiate">http://promise.asu.edu/csp/">Collegiate Scholars Program within ASU’s Office of the Senior Vice President for Student Initiatives. “The 18 students not only learned about the world of psychology and the connections between that field and music, but they also learned about college-level writing, conducted research, and shared their results. Additionally, they got a first-hand look at ASU’s comprehensive West campus and learned about their options for financing their higher education needs.”

The CS: SEP at the West campus is the first of a series of such educational enrichment programs Náñez and Duplissis will be developing for the university’s four campuses – Tempe, West, Poly and Downtown Phoenix. “We are researching ideas about the best ways to offer this type of experience to even more students in the future,” Duplissis says.

“Plans call for future CS:SEP summer sessions to reflect the academic program focus of the ASU campus on which they are being held,” Náñez says. “Participants may choose to attend a session at a particular campus based either on the fact that they live near the campus or that a specific academic program on that campus appeals to them. I believe that ASU’s investment in outstanding students through such an event as this will be a driving force in their ultimately choosing ASU as their academic home.” 

For information regarding the Collegiate Scholars Program and a way for on-track-to-graduate high school students to take classes at ASU’s campuses, visit the program Web site at http://promise.asu.edu/csp">http://promise.asu.edu/csp">http://promise.asu.edu/csp. Download Full Image

Teaching and talking about religion

July 31, 2009

When a student brings up a controversial issue surrounding religion in a university class, the response of many professors is to change the subject – or risk finding themselves engaged in a discussion that can become uncomfortable, or even hostile.

The result is what Linell Cady, director of the Center">http://www.csrc.asu.edu/">Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, calls “the paradox of constrained inquiry.” Cady is a professor in the new School">http://shprs.clas.asu.edu/">School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in ASU's College">http://clas.asu.edu">College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

“In the institution that should be most committed to free speech and academic freedom, we can, at times, fail to address the issues that matter most to people and warrant our deepest engagement,” Cady said.

To enable ASU to avoid that paradox, the center is working on the second phase of a $200,000 project funded by the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues initiative, “Teaching and Talking About Religion in Public.”

The centerpiece of the project is an 18-credit undergraduate certificate program in religion and conflict, which started last year. Six students completed the initial program and received their certificates this spring.

Certificate awardees were Rae Brendecke, Brian Hoblit, Sabrina LaZare, Whitney Meshay, Kristin Stelfox and Michelle Ritchie.

Creating the program required months of meetings to define what the certificate would be, identify appropriate courses from across the university for inclusion, and to secure faculty, departmental and college support for the plan, according to John Carlson, associate director of the center and coordinator of the certificate program.

But it was more complicated than just “plucking” existing courses from the catalog to include in the certificate. New courses were developed and existing ones revamped by the 15 participants in the inaugural faculty development seminar, which focused on the challenges faced when teaching about religion and the various dimensions of religion.

In the second phase of development, the Center will offer a series of pedagogy workshops that will “reflect further on the nature of dialogue in a classroom setting, an issue that was more complicated than we had anticipated,” Carlson said.

“These workshops play a critical role in cultivating an esprit de corps among the faculty teaching in the certificate program and will help to transform the academic culture of avoidance surrounding the teaching of religion.”

Chris Duncan, an anthropologist who teaches in religious studies and participated in the first faculty development seminar, said it taught him ways to engage students in discussions and cover topics that “may or may not be controversial” in a classroom.

Duncan said he wished that he had had the training before he encountered one of his most difficult students in his 300-level class “Religion and Global Politics.”

“The student had very strong, vociferous, anti-Islamic feelings, and he engaged in hate speech in class,” Duncan said. “He had very strong opinions that were not well educated. He liked to say things that were patently false.”

Had he had the student in class after he participated in the faculty development seminar, Duncan said he would have known better how to confront the student in a way that promoted dialogue and teaching for the class as a whole.

The second phase of the grant also will include the development of a core course and approximately eight modules that can be tailored to fit various disciplines.

"The goal of the core course is to ensure that students are exposed to a rigorous analysis of both theoretical issues and real-world cases each year," Cady added. Course modules will focus on topics such as religion and the state; issues of religion and identity; race and ethnicity; religion and the state; and religion and human rights.

A focus on religion in the university today is crucial, Cady said, because the American population is growing more and more diverse and religion is playing an increasingly public and politicized role both nationally and globally. To not address it across a wider spectrum of classes in academia has become “increasingly problematic.”

Long-term goals for the Difficult Dialogues program are twofold, according to Cady: to better prepare faculty to teach in religiously pluralistic classrooms, and to better prepare students to “live in a world of religious diversity and to understand how religion can be – but need not be – a factor in human conflict.”

Five of the six students who received the first certificates had double or triple majors, including religious studies. They found that the certificate classes meshed their areas of interest and brought them new insights.

Whitney Meshay of Mesa, whose majors were political science, German, and religious studies, said she discovered that the subject of religious conflict was “exceptionally interesting” after taking a class solely devoted to religious violence and conflict negotiation.

“I realized that this field was a perfect fit with my majors,” she said. “I then attended a peace building and human rights study abroad in South Africa, where I continued to learn about religion and conflict on a first-hand basis.”

Sabrina LaZare, who was born in Concord, Calif., but has lived in Arizona for the past eight years, majored in political science and religious studies.

“I decided to get the certificate because it blended my two majors perfectly,” she said. “You really can't understand religion without its political implications, and likewise you cannot understand politics without their religious undertones. The two claim to function in complete tandem yet wars and national crisis erupt if one goes out of the balance.”

Rae Brendecke a Tempe native, who majored in history and religious studies, said she has always loved history, and especially likes learning about great times of conflict and tragedy such as the Holocaust.

“I love studying these time periods because, in my opinion, they show the endurance of the human spirit, that even facing the most atrocious situations, with the right heart and attitude, you can survive and possibly change the world,” she said.

“The world is full of all types of conflicts, struggles against society, environment, tyranny, stereotypes, and so forth. Religion just seems to amplify the problems, taking the conflict from the worldly plane to the heavenly and also makes solving the conflict a lot more complicated.”

“I think studying the relationship between both religion and conflict is crucial to changing the world we live in, considering both are in the headlines daily.”