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Beloiters break out of comfort zones with Beloit Blocks

June 30, 2014 at 7:51 am


Summer in Beloit is not for slacking. Especially not for the dozens of students who participated in the seven Beloit Blocks summer courses, the three-week, intensive classes from all five domains that started the week after Commencement.

Students covered topics from writing about wilderness to the Pacific War to screenprinting to Great Apes. Their classrooms included zoos, campus, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and the city of Beloit itself.

“While we want Blocks to be fun, our students are serious students,” says Dan Perusich, the college’s director of summer programs. He says Beloiters usually enroll in a Block for one of two reasons: they either want to fulfill a domain requirement, or they want to try something out of the box.

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The latter was the case for Anna Freyfogle. “I chose to take the Astroblock course this summer because I needed a break from my usual science classes,” she says, of the interdisciplinary Astronomy, Art, and Archetypes course taught by John Kaufmann. “The summer block was a chance for me to explore a subject outside of my normal comfort zone without the pressures of other coursework to hold me back.”

Perusich said that, in gathering feedback from this summer’s group of Blocks students, many have said their experience was nothing short of transformative.

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“Writing Wilderness (taught by Chris Fink) allowed me to alter the way that I interact with the world and how I see myself,” said Kyndall White. “I not only learned about creative writing, but also how to enjoy, live in, and embrace "wilderness." It challenged me mentally, physically, and emotionally, and that was exactly what I was looking for from this class.”

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It’s not lost on Freyfogle that the interdisciplinary nature of her summer course can be somewhat atypical in some realms of higher education.

“After taking the course and coming home to my friends (many of whom attend larger universities), I realized how lucky I was to be able to take a class called Astronomy, Art, and Archetypes,” she says. “All of the people I know are on very straightforward academic tracks. I appreciate the structure of Beloit's academics because you are given so many opportunities to choose from a variety of studies.”

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The courses are not limited to current Beloit students; even some staff members took advantage of the benefit of taking a course. Director of Career Development Jessica Fox-Wilson took Scott Espeseth’s Screenprinting class.

“I actually explored it because I was so excited about the topic,” says Fox-Wilson, whose artwork produced in the class is pictured below. “I’m busy during the school year so it’s hard to take the benefit at that time, but during the summer it works.”

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Similarly, professors teaching Beloit Blocks can use the summer course either as an opportunity to explore a new topic within their discipline, or to offer a class that’s often full during the regular semester.

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“Our Women’s Health course (a lab session is pictured above) has a long history of high enrollment and success, and the Summer Blocks format allowed for deeper exploration outside of the classroom,” says Suzanne Cox, who taught the class with Laura Parmentier. “While our initial thinking was that a summer block would help ease enrollment pressures and allow us to try out some field excursions, it’s now clear that future offerings of the course will certainly benefit from the revision tried out during the Summer Blocks.”

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Students in that course (pictured above during a visit to Planned Parenthood), this summer’s most-enrolled Block, explored sexuality resources in Janesville and Madison (with a focus on sexual health), birthing resources in Milwaukee, and alternative health care resources in Evansville. They also spent a day at the University of Illinois-Chicago Center for Research on Women and Gender, a research trip coordinated by Beloit alumna Kris Zimmerman’96.

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Lisa Anderson-Levy taught Thinking/Living Difference in Beloit as a Beloit Block this summer. “This was an idea I had based on the work I had done throughout the year, on identity,” she says. She had the students produce mapping projects of campus, labeling certain areas with the meanings attached to those places. They went out and explored the city, which led to some illuminating conversations, especially as many had not previously ventured far from campus. “It got them thinking about what they’ve been told about Beloit, and what they know about who lives where,” Anderson-Levy says. Final projects looked at disability on campus, and the ways spaces like Commons or the gym are affected by race, class, and gender. “It was about getting them thinking about the fact that space isn’t neutral,” she says.

As he begins planning for Beloit Blocks in the summer of 2015, Perusich is hoping Beloit students weigh in on the types of classes they’d like to see offered.

“Ideally, we’d like to have a split between classes that are outside the box and classes that are full during the year,” he says. “Send us an email. Say ‘I’d like to see this thing as a Block.’ I think that will satisfy the needs—and wants—of our students and faculty.”

Have an idea for a summer Beloit Blocks course? Email Perusich at perusichd@beloit.edu.

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