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Labs Across the Curriculum

Beloit College faculty in the humanities are developing unique course projects that put the liberal arts into practice for all Beloit students. Funded by a $507,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Labs Across the Curriculum is a critical component of the recently redesigned curriculum.

The grant is self-explanatory; as President Scott Bierman put it in October of 2010, it brings the “hands-on, outcomes-based field and lab” class structure to every discipline. The Labs initiative applies the laboratory model to courses traditionally taught as lectures or seminars.

Current Labs projects include an introductory level philosophy course, in which students interact with local elementary school children to teach them concepts in philosophy. The course, taught by Professor Robin Zebrowski, is inspired by Matthew Lipman’s 1970s movement to introduce philosophy to younger children. Education professor Bill New has developed a course for students to mentor at-risk children in Beloit charter schools. Supplemented with the study of adolescent development and effective instruction methodologies, the course prepares students to teach and communicate, while sustaining a special bond to the community.

Projects such as these embody a “classroom without walls” mindset, in which the world is understood as an ideal learning space. Other Labs have adopted a more holistic approach, such as Professor Chris Fink’s journalism course involving The Beloit Fiction Journal. In Fink’s class, students are involved in the selection, compilation and editing of submissions to produce the national literary magazine, whose marketing and online presence is expanding under the Labs initiative. Professionalism is likewise expected from students involved in the Repertory Dance Company, created by dance professor Gina T’ai. Students are given every opportunity to run the company, doing everything from performing, teaching, and choreographing to writing grants and managing the company budget.

Being resourceful outside of class, namely through interactions with Beloit alumni and local community members, is a critical component of Fred Burwell and Ellen Joyce’s Civil War and Civil Rights course in which students both use and contribute to the college archives to piece together pivotal events in the history of Beloit. The course connects students to their past while laying the groundwork for future projects and research.

Some projects quite literally embody the philosophy that the outside world provides the perfect lab bench, such as the Ethnographic Field School in Jamaica course. The combined efforts of Professors Lisa Anderson-Levy and Nancy Krusko allow for an incomparable archeological field opportunity in which students experience the primary methodology of anthropological and ethnographic study. Also internationally inspired, Modern Languages Professor Daniel Youd has developed a course, Language Partners: Beloit and Kaifeng, in which students will participate in live language labs conducted over Skype. Such conversations with Chinese students from our exchange partner, Henan University, are part of an ongoing partnership between both students and faculty.

Contextualizing the humanities in this way strengthens their linkages to other fields of study, which is an essential prerogative of Beloit’s liberal arts mission. Over the next three years, the Labs initiative will expose students to concepts in multiple frameworks, establishing broader horizons for the classroom by incorporating active and collaborative field experiences within the local Beloit community and the world at large.