Part III: Oglethorpe professors help history come alive in Italy

This summer’s short term, for-credit trip to Italy made an enormous impact on the students who participated. Following up on the original post by Dr. Jeffrey Collins, we now hear from three of those students, in their own words.   [Part II]  [Part IV]

The author Annie Morgan in an Italian market. Photo: Robert Findley

Earlier this summer, I boarded a plane to Italy with a group of Oglethorpe students, Italia-bound. As I settled into my seat, thumbing the pages of a book about the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I wrestled with a sinking feeling. As an English major, I’d studied little art, art history, or even Roman history in my four years at Oglethorpe. I knew that I was one of the least prepared students on that plane. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I had scrambled to catch up on what knowledge I could. I found myself sitting cross-legged in the Italian history section at Barnes & Noble, lamenting all the things I didn’t know. The only fruit from that endeavor was the book in my hands and the sad feeling that I wouldn’t get to experience Italy in all of her fullness.

Leave it to the Oglethorpe faculty to exceed my expectations, as usual.

Photo: Laura Jacques

It was clear within moments of setting foot in Rome that my lack of information was not going to be a problem for very long. As soon as our weary troupe of travelers stepped off the bus next to Teatro de Marcello, our professors started scanning the horizon with a strange glint in their eyes. As a group, our energy was waning in the doldrums of jetlag, and all I could think about was finding a panino and a pillow. Dr. Collins and Professor Loehle, however, lit up like a couple of Christmas trees as soon as they saw the crumbling brick walls of ancient Rome. They could hardly wait to start explaining things to us, to let us in on their joy. Their love for the places we would see worked perfectly in tandem with my desire to learn; I was full of curiosity, and they were brimming with thoughts and information to share. I doubt that every student who studies abroad in Italy is fortunate enough to have professors who care so ardently about what students know about what they see.

Photo: Laura Jacques

And our professors weren’t the only ones filling up our brains with new things; Italy herself was a great teacher, and the more time I spent getting to know her, the more colorful my experiences became.

Thus, many of my favorite moments of the trip happened when I tackled Rome or Florence with only a map and a friend to guide me. Usually this happened at the end of the day when everyone was free to find dinner on their own, and my friend Sean and I would wander through parts of the cities that we hadn’t yet explored. While the daylight hours were packed with narratives from history that made the city come alive, the evenings were when we got to live out our own Italy stories—ones I’ll never forget.

Photo: Laura Jacques

It seems like I would need a decade to do justice in writing to all the magic that we found in unexpected places: the trees that overhang the Tiber and catch the gold glint of streetlights at night; the guitarist that filled up one piazza with songs that made you feel like you were dreaming; the organ concert in a gorgeous old church, with the music coming through the rafters like thunder and shaking the pews. It was on an adventure with Sean that I first glimpsed the coliseum and the forum, both very haunting and mysterious in the moonlight. One night, we stumbled upon Michelangelo’s Piazza in Florence, with its stairs winding up seemingly straight into the night sky. At the top, we discovered a breathtaking view of Tuscany, tiny lights glittering from the Duomo all the way to far away hillsides. And, of course, we made sure to track down the best gelateria we could find in both cities, and to celebrate our success by returning to those wonderful establishments—frequently.

In the last 12 months, I have set foot in five countries other than my own—never did I feel less prepared for any of them than when I boarded that plane to Rome. I can confidently say, however, that if I left with my hands proverbially empty, I came back with more than I could carry. In my mind, this voyage to Italy was very much what a study abroad trip ought to be: not only did the history of art in that country come alive to me for the first time, the place itself offered more culturally than anyone could grasp in just two weeks. And maybe that’s better, anyway—I suppose I’ll just have to go back!

Oglethorpe Psych Students Excel at Research Conference

The annual Georgia Undergraduate Research in Psychology Conference was recently hosted by nearby Kennesaw State University. More than 110 students from nearly 20 universities presented either research posters or talks. Many were honor students from their respective universities—which this year included universities from surrounding states as well.

The Oglethorpe Psychology Department was represented by seven students who had their work accepted for the conference: Jahnavi Delmonico, Julia Fukuda, Cassie Hendrix, Allison Moore, Justin Sabree, Brittany Weiner and Janet Wood. They presented a mixture of research posters and talks based on the original data they had collected in their respective studies from the past year. In addition, all of them participated in a juried competition sponsored by the Georgia Psychological Association (GPA) for best research at the conference. Judges consisted of executive members of the GPA and professors of research methodology.

For the fourth year in a row, an Oglethorpe student earned first place! Specifically, Cassie Hendrix submitted a study she completed during her “Theories of Personality” course on the effects of anxiety on people’s ability to correctly interpret the emotions expressed in facial expressions. She presented her research in a 250-seat auditorium, where she led the audience through a Powerpoint presentation of her study, followed by a question and answer session. Cassie and I (as her faculty sponsor) received certificates of recognition and Cassie received a cash award. She joins previous GPA-sponsored conference winners Ilana Olin and Mary Beth Bidgood (2009), Alyx Buonanotte (2010), and Balbir Khalsa and Brittany Weiner (2011).

Participants had the opportunity to attend all the talks and poster sessions, as well as listen to a keynote address and attend a career/graduate school panel discussion. It was an excellent opportunity to meet students and professors from other schools and to learn from fellow excellent researchers.

All of the students gained valuable experience, practiced publicly presenting and defending their work, and had a good time spending the day with each other and the department faculty. Congratulations to all of you!

Editor’s Note: The Oglethorpe University Psychology Department routinely encourages its students to submit original research they have designed and conducted to professional research conferences. Our students typically attend several conferences during their undergraduate education. Submitting one’s work for peer review by experts in the field and then defending that work in a professional setting is wonderful training for graduate school, professional schools (e.g., medical and law) and many careers.

“Eyes on Africa” Course Offers Students A New Look at History

The Seminar group poses at Sullivan's Island

French Professor Jay Lutz and I designed a First Year Seminar course called “Eyes on Africa.”  The seminar explores the culture, literature, people and current events related to the African continent.  In addition to our focus on the continent, the seminar makes relevant connections to the African Diaspora—the manifestation of African culture outside of the continent. This manifestation includes Africa’s indelible impact on the United States through the influence of black Americans.

In exploring the rich contribution of Africans on the United States, we thought it appropriate to take our class on a journey  to Charleston, South Carolina,  the historic city many call “ground zero” of African American culture in the United States.  Charleston has this designation because as the fifth largest city in late 17th century colonial North America it was a major slave port, receiving tens of thousands of African men and women destined to toil in South Carolina plantations, rice fields, and urban centers.  Moreover, it is estimated that more than half of all African Americans, no matter where in the U.S. they reside, had at least one ancestor who was trafficked through the Charleston port.

Students visited the Old Slave Mart Museum.

Our FYS had the privilege of being escorted throughout much of our Charleston tour by South Carolina historian and author Wayne Anthony O’Bryant, who was generous enough to give the entire FYS an autographed copy of his book, In the Footprints of a Giant: The Vesey Connection, which traces Denmark Vesey’s life and legacy through the author’s childhood recollections and revelations.

Our seminar group visited and learned about the domestic and international slave trade at Charleston’s Old Slave Mart Museum.  Originally, Ryan’s Mart, this very building held slave auctions where men, women, and children were bought, sold, and traded.  The museum has sobering exhibits focused on the institution of slavery and its importance to the economy and general development of colonial South Carolina. The black population of colonial South Carolina frequently equaled or exceeded that of whites, which permitted a thorough diffusion of African culture, art, music, dance, architecture, craft, cuisine, spirituality, and even language in the region and beyond.  Some of the most significant slave insurrections in colonial America, including the Stono Rebellion of 1739 and the Demark Vesey’s famous revolt of 1822 occurred in or around Charleston. 

We also toured the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.  Founded in 1865 by the American Missionary Association as the Avery Normal School, this institution, for nearly a century, groomed Charleston area African Americans for professional and academic careers until its doors closed in 1954.  Today, the Avery is not only a research center, but also an archives and a museum containing valuable historical documents related to local African American culture as well as to the African diaspora.

Our group also traveled to Columbia, S.C., where we visited the African American Monument, the first and only monument dedicated to African American culture built on the grounds of a state capitol.  The granite and bronze monument sculpted by Ed Dwight opened in 2001 and uses a series of expressive panels to trace African American culture from the arrival of Africans to South Carolina shores to the present.

A map at Sullivan's Island shows the path of slaves from Africa to the Americas.

Before returning to Oglethorpe, our FYS explored Sullivan’s Island, a place with significant historical significance despite its relatively low-key status as a Charleston-area landmark.  A major battle of the American Revolution took place at Fort Sullivan (now Fort Moultrie).  However, prior to becoming a Revolutionary-era battleground site, for much of the 18th century, Sullivan’s Island served as a “quarantine station” for Africans arriving in the United States before beginning their new lives as slaves.  It is estimated that 40% of African Americans can trace an ancestors through Sullivan’s Island, making this sacred site akin to an “African-American Ellis Island.”

Dr. Mario Chandler is Associate Professor of Spanish. He received his B.A. from Iowa State University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Georgia.

History In the Making: Oglethorpe Visits Cuba

Dr. Mario Chandler and Dr. Viviana Plotnik, together with President Schall, led a group of OU students on an educational trip to Cuba over winter break as part of a course focusing on Cuban history, politics and culture.  This is the first Oglethorpe University educational trip to this country.

The course, taken for academic credit, included extensive lectures, readings, films, homework, and other requirements. The trip focused on hands-on exploration of Havana’s extensive Asian heritage, the historical and contemporary importance of Cuba’s tobacco industry as well as the island’s economic importance.  After the trip, each student had to turn in a journal and each are required to write a reserach paper due later in the semester.

The trip coincided with Delta Airlines’ adding direct flights from Atlanta to Cuba in December 2011. The decision allows  for flights for passengers with close relatives in Cuba, for those who are involved in the medical or agricultural business sectors, or for education or religious activities. OU’s group was on one of the first  flights to Cuba, just a few days after Christmas. Dr. Chandler shared his thoughts on the trip with the OU Blog.

OU Blog: How did the trip to Cuba come to fruition?

Dr. Chandler: The idea for the OU trip to Cuba was inspired, in fact, by President Schall, who has great interest in the Spanish language and Latin American issues.  The President approached me and my colleague in Spanish, Dr. Viviana Plotnik, and shared with us his desire to see such an opportunity come to fruition for our students.  Dr. Plotnik and I designed the itinerary and course, which received an enthusiastic and immediate response from the campus community.  We were able to put all of the organization pieces together during the Fall 2011 semester.

OU Blog: Why was this trip important?

Dr. Chandler:  For me the trip to Cuba symbolized one important, but all-encompassing notion: opportunity.  This trip constituted an opportunity for Oglethorpe students to engage Cuban culture, history, and society on that country’s terms rather than through a five-decade long filter of misunderstanding and distrust between Cuba and our country.  Unfortunately, the average American students’ views about Cuba are often imbued with misunderstanding, so an opportunity to challenge popular opinion by allowing students to meet Cubans and engage issues from an internal perspective is a powerful and potentially transformative educational experience.  As Spanish professors, Dr. Plotnik and I couldn’t be more proud than to have had the chance to shepherd our students in their navigation of this wonderful opportunity, an exercise that takes place, ideally, in the people’s language…Spanish.

OU Blog: How was the Oglethorpe group received by the local people?

Dr. Chandler: Our OU group members were consummate ambassadors throughout our Cuban journey.  We were proud to see our students using the Spanish language for engaging in daily contact with Cubans, for holding conversations and maintaining discussions, and for cultivating acquaintances that extended beyond the typical tourist demarcations.  Frequently, throughout our Cuban travels, we used public transportation alongside Cubans going about their daily tasks or ate peanuts while strolling the country’s prados and malecons, in small but significant ways bringing us closer to our Cuban hosts and erasing barriers on both sides whether real or invented.

If you would like to learn more about this trip, Dr. Chandler, Dr. Plotnik, and Oglethorpe students will give a presentation about their experiences as part of tomorrow’s OU Day celebrations. Join the conversation, “OU Student Reflections on Cuban Culture–What Happens in Cuba Doesn’t Stay in Cuba,” on Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 12:10 p.m. in the Conant Performing Arts Center. For more photos from the Cuba trip, check out Flickr. For more information about Oglethorpe’s study abroad program, check out OUSA’s page.

A Message of Thanks to the Oglethorpe Faculty

The following speech was given by alumna Mandy McDow Flemming ’00 at the Faculty Appreciation Reception on April 16 during the 2011 Alumni Reunion Weekend.

Dr. Jim Bohart, Dr. John Nardo, Dr. John Cramer, Trustee Emeritus O.K. Sheffield ’53, Trustee Fred Agel ’51 and Dr. Mike Rulison at the Faculty Appreciation Reception.

It is a joy and an honor to be with you all today at the Faculty Appreciation Reception, and I am so grateful for the invitation to address specifically the value of the faculty here at Oglethorpe. I speak from my experience, not just as a student of yours, but also as the spouse of a faculty member at a different institution.

What began for you as a long-suffering engagement with a subject near and dear to your hearts and led you through the at-times hellish process that is doctoral work, has led you to this place. Whatever your story or passion was before arriving at this institution, it has now been merged with the stories and passions of your colleagues and students. Faculty, you all have done something remarkable. You have said yes—to this job, this opportunity, this particular culture.

You, respected folks, are the soul of Oglethorpe.

We, as students, will come and go. Our time here is (typically) finite. We come, we memorize the names of the core courses, we go. You bring us in, tend to us, teach us what you love, and then bid us farewell, hoping beyond hope that what has mattered to you will matter a bit to us.

Faculty, you are the soul of this place that we all love because you are the lifeline that flows from generation to generation. You will outlast administrators, presidents, deans and students. So, we count on you to teach others with the same care and respect that you have taught us.

I know now, as the wife of a professor, what you have sacrificed to be here. Continue reading