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MC students busy as fall semester comes to a close

Barry McNamara and Jeff Rankin
Dressed in period attire, students Megan Zaubi (left), Ellen Boshart and Connor Shields read from a graphic novel that they helped create as a project for the “Victorian Culture” class.
The early days of December bring a chill to the Monmouth College campus, but inside the academic halls, the action is heating up, with final projects, papers and exams the order of the day. Final exams will come to a close on Dec. 14, and Monmouth students will receive ample time to recover from their frenzied finish, not having to return for the spring semester until Jan. 23.

Mathematics students were among those working hard on final projects, which they displayed earlier this month on special poster easels that were constructed for the college by the Warren Achievement Center.

“This is the first time we’ve brought them out of the classroom,” said professor of mathematics and computer science Marjorie Bond of the semester-long projects. “They knew their peers would see their work, so I think it brought out their best.”

Forty-four students in Bond’s “Elementary Statistics” course and 13 in her “Statistics for the Sciences” class displayed their projects, as well as 18 students in professor Marta Tucker’s “Mathematics for the Liberal Arts” course.

“This is the first time I’ve required the students in ‘Statistics for the Science’ to use poster paper,” said Bond. “I did it to help get them ready for their capstone course in biology.”

She added, “We plan to do this every semester, and we’d like to get more professors involved. I’m very excited about seeing the work they came up with and the interesting projects they did.”

Students in the college’s Honors Programs not only presented work at the end of the semester, but their major projects were also intended to serve as a capstone experience of their four-year journey through the college’s distinctive academic program.

The four seniors who presented were Jackie Deskovich of Rockford, Andrew Drea of Taylorville, Kim Dwyer of Roseville and Alex Holt of Evanston.

Titled “Revolution in 140 Characters or Less,” Drea’s project looked at how social networking tools could be what defines citizen journalism in the new millennium.

He wrote, “As Tunisians and Egyptians head to the polls for parliamentary elections, the world is left to wonder what will be the fate of the so-called ‘Twitter Revolution.’ As the effects of the ‘Arab Spring’ continue to reverberate worldwide, we look to the inherent causes of the protests and the use of social networking to coordinate efforts.”

Dwyer’s project, titled “A Tale of Two Sisters,” was inspired by, of all things, a yard sale purchase.

Based upon a shoebox full letters of she bought, Dwyer told the story of two sisters who lived in rural North Carolina. The letters, which span a period of 15 years, began almost a century ago and follow the sisters’ paths from young teachers to married women with families.

“This story tracks how the women came from identical backgrounds and followed relatively the same path, yet ended up in drastically different places,” Dwyer said.

A recent Monmouth College initiative for integrated learning – in which students and faculty from different disciplines interact in the classroom – got a major boost this fall with a pilot course called “Victorian Culture.” Developed jointly by the departments of English, art and educational studies, the course brought together 27 students, who were primarily English and art majors, to conduct an in-depth study of late-Victorian art, poetry and culture in England.

English students took the class for three credit hours, while art students performed an additional studio art component for a total of four credit hours. Two afternoons a week, the students convened jointly for lectures about period authors, poets and artists.

On a Sunday afternoon and evening in early December, the students made public presentations about their work while also enjoying a Victorian-style banquet. Prior to the feast, art students displayed paintings, sculpture and photographs they had created in the style of Victorian artists they had studied. After dinner, teams composed of both art and English students read from diaries and graphic novels inspired by the Victorian period, which they had created during the course.

The experimental nature of the course led to some surprises for both students and faculty, most of which were positive.

“I had not been a huge poetry fan,” said Courtney Bennett, a junior art major from Aledo, “but this course made me think about it and appreciate it in a new way.”

Art faculty member Brian Baugh said that sitting in on lectures by English professor Rob Hale gave him new ideas about how to approach his craft.

“The discussions were in-depth and engaging,” he said. “I am hoping to adopt some of Rob’s teaching methods for my art classes.”

The course, which was developed with special funding set aside by the board of trustees for integrated learning initiatives, also fulfilled the capstone requirement for the 19th-Century Studies minor.

Several psychology and biopsychology majors also gave semester research talks, with the topics of alcohol and sexual orientation both investigated by more than one student.

Another group of students discussed internship experiences through the physical education department, including four who worked for the Warren County YMCA. Others took positions at Camp Thunderbird, WMOI-WRAM Radio and Advanced Rehab & Sports Medicine.

Senior Molly Ball of Charleston also gave a public presentation, but it came in November at the Prairie Section meeting of the American Physical Society (APS). Ball presented her summer research conducted at the University of Notre Dame.

“My REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) was a great learning opportunity and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the summer,” said Ball. “I worked on Project GRAND, which is a cosmic ray detector directly north of the Notre Dame campus.”

The detector was created to investigate high-energy particles coming from outside our solar system that have high enough energies to make their way through the Earth’s atmosphere and reach ground-level detectors.

Regarding her opportunity to present research at the APS meeting, Ball said, “It is an excellent place for undergraduates to show what they have done with their research and to listen to many high-level physicists talk about their own research in their fields.”

It is also a great place to network, and physics professor Chris Fasano said Ball’s work caught the eye of graduate programs, which should help Ball as she prepares for the next stage of her education following her graduation in May.