Professors lead freshmen students in ‘engaged learning’

By Kris Genther
September 18, 2008

Taking 19 college freshmen on a two-night trip to Washington, D.C. might seem like a recipe for disaster, but not in the eyes of three Cabrini professors. In fact, Dr. Nancy Watterson, assistant professor of social justice and American studies, Dr. Daryl Mace, assistant professor of history and Dr. Nicholas Rademacher, assistant professor of religious studies, designed and created a course to do just that.

These three professors got together and created the Voices of Justice Living and Learning Community (LLC) with the goal of “changing the entire dynamics of the classroom,” Mace said.

The class itself is designed around an “inter-disciplinary approach to engaged learning.” The professors created this course to encourage students to take an “active stance in their own learning and in the politics of everyday life.”

The trip to Washington encompassed many different aspects of what Washington has to offer, including the National Cathedral, the Smithsonian, the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and the National Mall. All of these are rich in culture and history. Following the first trip last year, the itinerary “has become more focused and structured, and in some ways less structured so as to foster creativity and free thinking,” Rademacher said.

The class will be staying at Trinity University, a school located in Washington and close to all of the sites they would be visiting.

“This trip is pretty academic, and by the end of the day [the students] are intellectually tired,” Watterson said.

The trip is also designed to strengthen the bonds of the freshmen with the Cabrini community. The professors hope to do this by integrating religion, gender, race and age by bringing everyone together for an experience that blends justice, civic engagement, religion and American studies, a tall task, they said, but one that they feel is necessary to truly implement Cabrini’s core values.

The professors are hoping that by exposing these students to what Washington, D.C., has to offer, they will take what they have learned and contribute it to the LLC that is now in its second year at Cabrini.

Rademacher said, “We are trying to be a model for the entire campus.”

“We went from knowing the names of the students and maybe being able to put a face with the name to really knowing the students and them really knowing each other, all in those two days,” Mace said.

“It helped to develop their level of thinking and writing skills, and their comfort level,” Watterson said, all of which are essential to a successful college career and will undoubtedly stick with them well into their future.

Watterson hopes the students “will take a way an understanding of the common good,” an idea that is at the heart of Cabrini’s core values.

When the trip is finished the classes will engage in critical writing, dialogue and focus groups to evaluate the impact the trip had on students. It is this aspect of inferring and synthesizing that will carry over thought the year while in the LLC, Watterson hopes.

By learning to express what they have learned and what they hope to project onto those around them they are gaining valuable life skills.

“That’s success in life. If you know how to express your ideas, that’s half the battle,” Mace said.

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Kris Genther

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