Since 2010, Beloit College faculty in the humanities and arts have developed 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 has become a critical component of the College's reinvigorated curriculum. The initial grant is winding down in Fall 2014, but the creativity and innovation that if fostered will continue to influence the Beloit experience.
The grant has been self-explanatory; as President Scott Bierman put it in October of 2010, it brought the “hands-on, outcomes-based field and lab” class structure to every discipline. The Labs initiative applied the laboratory model to courses traditionally taught as lectures, seminars and even short-term study abroad courses. The project was administered during the 2013-14 academic year by a steering committee. Committee members included Professors Shawn Gillen (chair), Chris Johnson, Beatrice McKenzie, and John Kaufmann.
Labs project funding has led to new courses on subjects such as digital mapping, public history, environmental writing, and land tenure conflict in Vietnam. With Labs funding, students and faculty have worked in the college's museums and designed exhibitions, traveled together to study and produce theater in Serbia, to compete in international dance competitions in Czechoslovakia, and to study racial and class disparities in Jamaica.
Projects such as these embody a “classroom without walls” mindset, in which the world is understood as an ideal learning space. Other Lab projects adopted a more holistic approach in revamped college courses, 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 has expanded 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, was a critical component of Fred Burwell and Ellen Joyce’s Civil War and Civil Rights course in which students both used and contributed to the college archives to piece together pivotal events in the history of Beloit. The course connected students to their past while laying the groundwork for future projects and research. Some projects quite literally embodied the philosophy that the outside world provides the perfect lab bench, Modern Languages Professor Daniel Youd developed a course, Language Partners: Beloit and Kaifeng, in which students 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. Professor Shawn Gillen developed a new version of Beloit's introductory creative writing course that will bring student writers to Eötvös Loránd University's Collegium in Hungary to study Budapest's history, literary culture, and urban experience. Students will draw on their international experience to shape their poetry and fiction. Contextualizing the humanities in this way has strengthened its linkages to other fields of study, which is an essential prerogative of Beloit’s liberal arts mission.
Over the last three years, the Labs initiative has exposed 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. With dozens of new labs courses and programs added to the college's curriculum, the impact of the Mellon Foundation's grant will continue to challenge and inspire generations of Beloit students.
For more information about Labs, please contact Professor Shawn Gillen.
The Labs Across the Curriculum website was designed by Shawn Gillen and Maureen Johnson'15 with assistance from Nick Mischler'14 and Melissa Dix.