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ILA course increases rigor, sense of community

Barry McNamara

MONMOUTH, Ill. – During their first week at Monmouth College, first-year students discover that one of the values of a liberal arts education is becoming a lifelong learner.

One way they learn that is through the College’s “Introduction to Liberal Arts” course.

Coordinated by Assistant Professor of Art Stephanie Baugh, “Introduction to Liberal Arts” is a transition to the Monmouth College learning community. Taken by all first-year students, the course combines liberal arts concepts, academic skills, and personal reflection and development.

“ILA blends together several key concepts and experiences that are crucial to a student’s success in college,” said Baugh. “ILA is structured as a holistic approach to learning that is truly student-centered in both its content and pedagogy. It extends aspects of orientation throughout the semester to help students adjust to the challenges of college, and it engages students in a rigorous academic course that sets the stage for the rest of their Monmouth career.”

The 19 professors who teach “Introduction to Liberal Arts,” which has the theme “Self, Stranger, Community,” are assisted by 21 upperclass students who serve as first-year mentors. The mentors were introduced to the freshmen as their orientation leaders. When classes started, their orientation leaders became their first-year mentors, whom they will work with all semester in ILA.

“No matter your major, race color or background, ILA is the class that places everyone on the same page,” said Irving Hernandez ’19 of Chicago, who is a first-year mentor. “It’s a course that reflects off every individual’s life and discusses what our true purpose is in our communities. As a first-generation Mexican-American student, this is one of the reasons why liberal art schools like Monmouth are meant for minorities like me.”

In addition to helping first-year students become lifelong learners, “Introduction to Liberal Arts” also helps students understand how reading is an active and engaged process as well as how to use the liberal arts as a way to investigate human values, purposes and communities.

ILA classes meet three or four times a week during the fall semester. The week’s fourth meeting, held on Thursday, alternates between a convocation and small joint gatherings that emphasize mentoring.

The first ILA convocation – “What Is a Liberal Arts Education?” – will be led Aug. 31 by visiting author Melissa Scholes Young, a 1997 Monmouth graduate who teaches at American University. Her debut novel, Flood, was published in June by Center Street.

“With the Thursday programs, we’re able to engage the students in a different way,” said Baugh. “The joint sessions are a purposeful way to create a sense of community across the ILA sections. Using the first-year mentors as leaders on Thursdays strengthens the interactions between the new students and the peer mentors.”

Before first-year students arrived on campus, they were assigned to read Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education, written by Matthew Sanders, a communication studies professor at Utah State University. During the semester, ILA students will also have class conversations based on collected writings in the 2017 ILA Reader.

ILA’s focus on reading as a key academic skill continues with the students engaging in more reading-based writing this year, which is designed to increase their ability to pay attention to detail and to critically analyze texts.

“We’ve made an intentional effort to connect all the pieces of ILA – the theme, the goals, the texts, the convocations,” said Baugh. “We want to have all these components come together to create a cohesive experience for our students.”

Baugh said the ILA instructors will continue to be free to explore avenues of their choosing – or those that result from classroom discussions – calling the revised approach “synchronized, with flexibility.”