When she eventually lands her dream job as an elementary school teacher, Monmouth College’s Ashley Atwell knows that making connections with her students will be a top priority.
Fortunately, the junior from Walnut has made several meaningful connections as a Monmouth student, and she’s confident they will help her become a better teacher.
When it comes to defining the liberal arts education offered at Monmouth, Atwell said it’s about “making connections between different disciplines.”
“In an education class, we might be talking about something historical,” she said. “Then I can go to a history class, and relate that discussion to what we’re learning there. It’s about looking at other people’s connections to an idea and combining it all together to get a deeper understanding. At Monmouth, you’re constantly exposed to other outlooks and ideas from faculty and other students. It impacts you in ways you don’t expect.”
That exposure is elevated in the college’s integrated studies classes, said Atwell, who appreciates being able to make connections with a diverse group of classmates.
“I really noticed an ‘a ha’ moment in my Reflection class this year, ‘Beyond Belief’ (taught by biology professor Ken Cramer),” said Atwell. “It was about science vs. religion. By our junior years, we have started to get specialized in a discipline, and the Reflections course brings together students from several disciplines. We’re all open to discussion, and everyone has a different spin on each issue. I really like that approach of bringing students together like that every year. It helps us think about things in new, different ways, as opposed to just being around students from our own discipline.”
For example, she said, the communication students in class might have one theory based on what they know about forms of persuasion, but “the biology students will see the same issue in a completely different way. I like the way the class makes us connect in interesting ways.”
Those moments when a light goes on are exactly what drove Atwell into the field of educational studies, she said.
“I wanted to go to a college with a small-school atmosphere, a liberal arts school. I chose Monmouth, specifically, because of its academic reputation in education. I want to be an elementary school teacher, particularly the first- or second-grade level, because I love seeing that ‘a ha’ moment of kids really getting it.”
As a future teacher, Atwell pays close attention to how students learn. An eye-opening course, she said, has been “Educational Theories of Learning,” taught by associate professor of educational studies Craig Vivian.
“Early on, some of our courses were about how to teach this or how to teach that, but Professor Vivian’s class makes you learn why, and it makes you rethink a lot of ideas and concepts,” said Atwell. “I think it ties into the whole idea of ‘learning to learn’ very much. It’s really made me think a lot about homework and assignments. You don’t need to always have homework assignments be the same, like doing 50 problems every night. There are other ways to evaluate how a student is doing besides the routines of homework.”
Out of the classroom, Atwell’s experience as secretary for the history honor society Phi Alpha Theta has taught her “organization and communication skills. I’ve only been the secretary a short time, and it’s already impacted me a lot.”
That’s just one of the many connections that Atwell has made on the Monmouth College campus, where she also serves as a Scot Ambassador and orientation leader.