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ILA is cornerstone of a Monmouth education

Barry McNamara
On Aug. 20, the first day that this fall's ILA met, all of the classes posed for a group photo, including this section of ILA, taught by Julie Rothbardt.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – In Monmouth College’s Integrated Studies curriculum, the “Citizenship” course taken by seniors is often referred to as the “capstone” of the Monmouth academic experience.

On the other end of the spectrum is the first-year course, “Introduction to Liberal Arts,” which freshmen take in their first semester. It has been called the “cornerstone” of that experience.

“I appreciate the idea of ILA as the cornerstone,” said art professor Stephanie Baugh, who directs the ILA program. “From this, the rest of their Monmouth education can build, and I hope we’re providing a solid foundation.”

As it has been for the past two years, the “Introduction to Liberal Arts” theme is “Self, Stranger and Community.”

During the semester, students hear from four guest speakers, including three with Monmouth ties: former Dean of the Faculty David Timmerman, former faculty member Hannah Schell and 2015 graduate Mariela Shaker. An immigrant from Syria, Shaker will share her personal narrative. The accomplished violinist will also perform during the Nov. 8 convocation.

ILA is a kind of hybrid course that combines academic work with practical advice.

“It is a first-year experience course, so it is not only an academic course – which it very much is, focusing on reading and writing and the required skills for student success at college – but it’s also very general,” said Baugh. “How do you deal with college and being here and finding out what it’s like to be on your own, to be responsible, independent adults?”

Baugh said that ILA also serves as “a transition course.”

“(Students are) going from high school to what is this new academic endeavor for them,” she said. “We need a place to say, ‘This is how you do it. ... This is how you’re going to think about managing your time. This is how you’re going to get into a reading and delve deep and question what’s being said.’”

Baugh said that learning how to understand a reading is a vital part of the course, because “reading is the key to almost every other course they’re going to take at Monmouth. ... How do we engage with the text, understand what it’s saying and get the most out of it? That’s useful in every class.”

It’s something that the professors who teach ILA do as well.

“ILA is taught by faculty from departments all across the campus,” said Baugh. “It is interesting to see how each professor finds their own way with it – finds what is their way to express their passions and commitments within the course. But it also is testament to what real education is and what continued learning is. Professors encounter new texts while teaching the course that they have to understand before they can teach them. We continue to learn through teaching this course, and I think that’s a good example for students.”

Baugh said that teaching ILA for the past seven years has been an important part of her development.

“I have learned more about teaching and how to be a better teacher through teaching this course,” she said. “I have grown tremendously from it, so I believe in it.”

She said the students grow as well.

“It is really exciting to watch students change over the semester, in part, but then my favorite thing to do at Commencement is to watch the list of names and find, ‘Oh, this student was in my ILA. Look, there’s another one and another one’ and to know how much they’ve grown from it,” she said.