Gaining Perspective

Incoming Freshmen

During an OU Passport orientation during the summer, incoming freshmen and first-year students competed in a scavenger hunt. The winners, pictured here, won copies of What the Dog Saw---required reading for the entire class.

As the class of 2015 prepared for its first semester as college students, the undergrads had more in common than just their freshman status. All first-year students shared a cross-major reading of Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw: and other adventures as part of a new common reading program at Oglethorpe.

“Several colleges and universities have established common reading programs over the years,” explained Kendra Hunter, director of student leadership and activities. “By introducing this program at Oglethorpe, Campus Life wanted to incorporate an academic component to New Student Orientation that would create a common experience for new students to begin the development of community among them as well as help prepare them for the academic and intellectual experiences they will have.”

Far from the ordinary textbook, What the Dog Saw is a compilation of 19 features written by the Canadian journalist, all of which were first published in The New Yorker magazine. In this collection, Gladwell explores the “back story” of society’s everyday stories, and makes an effort to find a larger meaning in them. The book is divided into three parts which examine: “minor geniuses” (those who find ways to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways); the theories or ways of organizing experience (such as the controversial program found in some big U.S. cities designed to tackle the problem of homelessness by giving the chronically homeless their own apartments, while less severe cases stay on the streets); and lastly, the assumptions and predictions we make about people (“How do we know whether someone is bad, or smart, or capable of doing something really well?”).

“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade,” says Gladwell in the book’s preface. “It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”

Indeed, Gladwell’s book was selected with the input of first-year instructors for its direct connection to first-year curriculum and its potential to encourage debate and real-life application.

What the Dog Saw is composed of essays and themes which appeal to a variety of students and can be connected to multiple disciplines,” said Hunter. “Resulting discussions ranged from their thoughts about the book to having a ‘pitching’ contest in which students took an ordinary object and pitched new and unusual uses for it. Currently, we are looking into visiting a homeless shelter and then discussing or debating the ideas from one of the essays, ‘Million Dollar Murray.’”

Throughout the year, students and faculty have found other ways to incorporate the book’s theme, turning what started as a summer reading assignment into a year-long intellectual discussion about the importance of perspective. Hunter said that three freshman classes took a trip to Dialog in the Dark, an exhibition that forces guests to “see” through the eyes of the visually impaired, using a series of darkened galleries created to replicate everyday experiences. “During that trip students gained a different perspective on everyday life with a visual impairment, encouraging them to be open to ideas and viewpoints other than their own,” explained Hunter.

Not surprisingly, others at OU have found ways to adapt the book as well. The OU Theatre department has plans to modify it for the stage. To be created and performed by students, the play will be presented exclusively at Oglethorpe by special permission of the author on April 12-14, 2012.

What the Dog Saw encourages its readers to think counter-intuitively and to question experiences and the assumptions they make,” said Hunter. “This is exactly what we want our students to do; critical thinking is such a large part of their education and individual development.”

This article first appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Oglethorpe’s Carillon magazine.

Liberal Arts in the 21st Century: War, Peace and Security

Dr. Orme Discussing

Dr. Orme's class discusses politics in a worldwide context.

For years, academics and world leaders have strived to understand the origins of war, the causes of peace, and the sources of future conflict. In his “War, Peace, and Security” class, Dr. John Orme invites students to explore just this, by examining the motives and calculations of past statesmen involved in warfare. He says that investigating historical conflict and resolution is beneficial to helping a student understand how the world works, no matter what career lies ahead of him.

“This is really a theoretical course,” explained Dr. Orme. “It is important to know the answers to questions like, ‘Why do states go to war? Why peace?’ [War stems from] a desire for security, which breeds a competition for power. In this class, we are trying to understand those in power.”

The concept of warring nations is certainly nothing new in the 21st century, but the ways in which we war certainly are. Last summer, in an effort to better understand terrorist ideologies and how democratic states combat them, Dr. Orme travelled to Israel as an Academic Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The 10-day fellowship program, taught in conjunction with Tel Aviv University, exposed university professors to the latest trends in terrorists’ operations. While in Israel, Orme and his colleagues engaged in discussions with top diplomats, military, and intelligence officials from around the world, including Ambassador Dore Gold, Israel’s former Ambassador to the UN. They also visited military bases, border zones, and imprisoned terrorists for an up-front view of Israel’s counterterrorism methods.

“The main purpose [of the field excursions] was for Westerners to have some appreciation for what Israel is going through,” remarked Dr. Orme. “I was most impressed by Israel as a people, and especially those who were being recruited into service…Ispecifically recall [at a security fence east of Jerusalem] the face of an Israeli commander. We did not speak to him, but his nonverbal communication spoke to how great a responsibility he has.”

He says that having participated in the seminar has certainly benefited classroom discussion, recently sparking conversation about nuclear proliferation, why states want nuclear weapons, and the differing conclusions about Qaddafi’s fall that those in the Middle East might make versus Americans and Europeans.

“Most of [my students] are not going to end up being practitioners,” said Dr. Orme. “But it prepares them as citizens in the world…if they do end up in a position of power, they’d use it responsibly.”

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of Oglethorpe’s Carillon magazine.

Alpha Psi Omega to Present ‘Of Dice & Men’

Oglethorpe University’s chapter of the Alpha Psi Omega theatre honor society invites you to a tabletop game of Dungeons and Dragons—on stage, that is. 

The Chi Kappa “cast” is set to produce Of Dice & Men, a coming-of-age play about six young people, all Dungeons and Dragons players, who must suddenly face the fact that one of their own will soon be deployed to Iraq—a conflict that will force them to realize why they game, what it means to grow up, and what true friendship looks like. Dice is one of this year’s breakout stage productions, and the thespians from OU’s Alpha Psi chapter are bringing it to the Lupton Hall stage later this fall.

The whole play, from top to bottom, is entirely student produced.  To help defray the cost of building the set, costumes, and outfitting the Lupton stage for a production of this quality, Alpha Psi has set up an online fundraiser, powered by Kickstarter.com.  They’ve already raised over $1300, and are looking to raise a total of $2000 by the beginning of next month.  Danielle Hitchcock ’12, the play’s director, says that bringing an up-and-coming stageplay like Of Dice & Men to the Atlanta theatre scene is a wonderful challenge for the cast and a real treat for audiences.

“This show really spoke to me, and I am going to do my very best to bring to the stage all of the realism and truth of the relationships and emotion that Cameron McNary composed in the work,” said Danielle.  “This show is extremely touching, and I think it will resonate with anyone who sees it, regardless of whether or not they’ve ever even heard of Dungeons and Dragons.”

“The game is really more of a device to show how close the characters are and to explore what it means to grow up.  I know that our tightly-knit ‘Ogle-community’ will be universally affected by the conflict of the play as everyone has had to deal with changes in their family of friends—whether it is just someone graduating or something more serious, the emotions in this play are ones that everyone must deal with at some point.”

Alpha Psi Omega’s Kickstarter fundraiser ends on Sunday, August 28, but the group will continue to collect donations through September 1.  To donate, please e-mail Danielle Hitchcock.

Photo: (from left) Ryan Boland ’14 and seniors Jacque McFadden ’12, Alfred Rudzki ’12, and Danielle Hitchcock ’12 read through Of Dice and Men.

Dig This: OU Senior Studies Archaeology in Turkey

Here at the OU Blog, we’ve heard plenty of stories of students traveling all over the world to enhance their OU education.  Most explore places like England, Spain, and plenty of places in Asia—but a student studying archaeology in Turkey?  That’s a new one for us!

Meet Katherine Harkleroad ’12.  She is an art history major at Oglethorpe, and decided to spend her summer in Turkey, where she attended an international archaeology seminar at Crisler Library.  Crisler is an American archaeological research and teaching facility which hosts some of the world’s brightest researchers and historians.  The program is open to undergraduates, graduates, and PhD candidates, and it’s based in Selçuk, near the ancient Roman city of Ephesus.

But when we say archaeology, don’t think of Katherine with a shovel and brush in hand.  As much as she’d probably love to dig, Katherine was taking the seminar from the standpoint of an art historian, and was a respectful observer of those “on the ground.”

“We are not actually digging in the dirt,” explained Katherine, while still in Turkey. “We are visiting Ephesus and the surrounding sites—such as Priene, Miletus, Didyma, and Aphrodisias—with archaeologists and professors from around the world…Turkey is very strict about who is involved in excavations. Although the archaeologists here are from all over, the excavation crews are from Turkey…[While] walking behind the scenes at many of the sites, our group has been able to view and hear about finds that are not yet published.”

Even without digging, Katherine kept a busy schedule.  Each morning, she and her colleagues traveled to a new site, exploring topics such as Roman private life, cult and politics, pagan sanctuaries, and how the Romans supplied themselves with water.  The seminar is taught by esteemed archaeologists known the world over for their research, including Germany’s Hilke Thür, the main lecturer in the course and a thirty-year veteran in the field.

“It is such a great opportunity to visit Ephesus and the surrounding sites with such a well known and renowned archaeologist,” said Katherine.  “[This] has helped me better understand archaeological practices, excavation, and restoration techniques and strategies. Such things are very useful for historians as well as art historians. [In the past,] I have taken a basic archaeology course, but this seminar has given me first-hand experience with the field of archaeology.”

So, after spending her summer up close and personal with professional archaeologists, can this Petrel see some digs in her future? 

“I am very interested in the work of archaeologists, but I don’t think that I am cut out for the life of an archaeologist,” comments Katherine. “The work season for most [is in] the summer, [when the] heat and sun are brutal. The living conditions in an excavation house are…interesting! …like being at camp,” she says laughingly.  “The program was a great—a once in a lifetime opportunity.  It was amazing.”

Photo: Katherine atop a fortress at the Basilica of St. Johns in Selçuk, near Ephesus.

Hundreds Volunteer During Oglethorpe’s Orientation Day of Service

Orientation Day at Oglethorpe is unlike orientation at any other school.  While new Petrels do rush to meet their professors and participate in the essential get-to-know-your-campus activities, they also add another stop to their list of things to do:  community service throughout the Atlanta area.  

On Monday morning,  Oglethorpe University’s incoming class volunteered at seven Atlanta-area nonprofits as part of the annual Orientation Day of Service.  In past years students have volunteered during their first week of college, but this is the first time an entering class has reached seven locations within the same day

For most, it was a way to become acclimated with the city around them, and experience hands-on learning about an an Atlanta nonprofit, its mission, and how it serves the community need.  For others, like 17-year old Parth Patel, the biggest personal impact of the project was having the opportunity to create relationships with classmates from around the world.

“[The day of service] was a great way for me to start making friends,” explained Parth, who spent his morning clearing shrubs and picking up litter at nearby Silver Lake.  “I am originally from Zambia, and it is neat to meet other international students from all over… because we’ve been working together all morning, we’ve had plenty of time to talk and learn about each other’s cultures and backgrounds.”

Parth and 19 fellow freshmen volunteered at Silver Lake in preparation for the community’s 100-year anniversary celebration.  But hundreds of other Petrels spread out around the metro area with plenty of other tasks in mind.  About 80 volunteers packed and sorted books for Africa’s youth at Books for Africa in Smyrna while 40 others worked at Medshare, sorting and preparing medical supplies for those in need the world over.  Another 50 offered their hands at Decatur’s Delano Line Park, helping to remove invasive species on its grounds, through a program called Park Pride.  At Grant Park, more than 100 volunteers worked to  prepare and beautify Atlanta’s oldest public park—just in time for next weekend’s Grant Park Summer Shade Festival.  More students visited Open Hand, packaging meals for medically-fragile patients, and more still spent time at Push Push Theatre, cleaning, organizing and painting areas of the theatre in preparation for a television show that is to be filmed there in the fall.

In recognition of their efforts, the Class of 2015 received the Phoenix Award from the office of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for “exemplary commitment to community service” and “for its hard work and dedication toward improving our quality of life and making our city a better place to live, work and play.” The Phoenix Award is given to organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to the residents of Georgia.

“Oglethorpe University has expanded its Orientation Day of Service for incoming students to reach multiple nonprofit sites in the Atlanta area,” said Tamara Nash, director of the Oglethorpe’s Center for Civic Engagement. “Our goal is to make the service experience more impactful for both the nonprofits and for the students.”