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Convocations help introduce first-year students to liberal arts

Barry McNamara
ACM President Sonya Malunda
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College students in this fall’s “Introduction to Liberal Arts” course are being offered something old and something new.

Known as ILA, the course is taken by all of the College’s first-year students and taught by faculty from departments across campus.

“ILA is a holistic first-year experience course,” said art professor Stephanie Baugh, who is also the program’s coordinator. “We are concerned with academic topics and intellectual questions, but it goes beyond that, because we are also interested in students’ well-being. The course is a transition for all of our students into this new Monmouth College community. ... There are a lot of challenges, and ILA is a place where we directly address those challenges.”

The cornerstone of the College’s Integrated Studies curriculum, ILA will see in increase in convocations this year, which Baugh called “a new strategy for us.” The first convocation, held during the first week of classes, dealt with “questions about ILA and questions within ILA,” said Baugh, who presented the talk.

ACM president to speak

Next on the convocation schedule is an Aug. 29 talk by Sonya Malunda, president of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, a consortium of 14 private liberal arts colleges of which Monmouth is a charter member.

Malunda will address the question, “What is a Liberal Arts Education?” Free and open to the public, the convocation will be at 11 a.m. in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.

Malunda’s career includes experience in government, banking and higher education, capped by nearly 20 years at the University of Chicago. Most recently, she served as Chicago’s senior associate vice president for civic engagement with a focus on building the university’s community and civic partnerships.

Half of the convocations will be keynote addresses, such as the one by Malunda, and the rest will feature College faculty and staff discussing a variety of topics, including growth mindset and stress management. Students will also hear from a panel of Monmouth alumni on the Thursday before Homecoming weekend (Oct. 18-20).

A shared experience

While a change has been made in the number of convocations, the theme for ILA and its common texts remain the same.

“This is the fourth year that we are using the theme ‘Self, Stranger and Community,’ and it’s also the fourth year that we are using two primary texts: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri,” said Baugh. “To be in the fourth year is actually a very exciting moment because it’s not just that our first-year students are engaged collectively in this topic; our sophomores, juniors and seniors – everybody on campus – have been thinking about this topic and encountered those texts when they took ILA.”

A new text has also been added: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.

“We are very pleased to bring this text into our course and signal how important it is to have conversations about race,” said Baugh. “We live in a diverse world. We need to be able to talk civilly and with knowledge with anyone we encounter.”

Baugh said this year’s instructors are taking a new approach to presenting the ILA theme by developing a “catalog of questions.”

“We are not necessarily here to teach the students about ‘Self, Stranger and Community,’ but to explore these complex ideas, to explore their interconnections and the dynamic relationship between them,” she said. “And so we have a set of questions that we’re going to use across all the sections of the class to guide that exploration. We do a lot of that exploration through encountering narratives so that we have different perspectives of people with different experiences. We encourage students to think broadly, and I think that’s a key idea of the liberal arts.”

“Introduction to Liberal Arts” convocation schedule. All convocations are at 11 a.m. on Thursdays:

Aug. 29 – “What is a Liberal Arts Education?” by Associated Colleges of the Midwest President Sonya Malunda

Sept. 5 – “Growth Mindset,” by Monmouth psychology professor Joan Wertz

Sept. 12 – “Stress Management,” by kinesiology professor Sean Schumm and lecturer Jen Braun

Sept. 19 – “Reframing the Sexual Assault Conversation,” by speaker Tim Mousseau

Sept. 26 – Reflections on the 2009 TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” by novelist Chimamanda Adichie; presented by English professor Kasia Bartoszynska and students

Oct. 3 – “Academic Integrity,” by psychology professor Marsha Dopheide and public services librarian Anne Giffey

Oct. 17 – “Becoming and Belonging,” by alumni Ken Morris ’01, Frank Clark ’02, Carmen Alvarado ’02, moderated by Regina Johnson ’01

Oct. 31 – “Registration and Academic Excellence,” by registrar Kristi Hippen

Nov. 7 – “Think Big,” by speaker Saul Flores

Nov. 14 – “My Journey,” by Mariela Shaker ’15