An Unexpected Surprise

After orientation finished in the fall, I was talking with several friends in the Kohlberg coffee bar about the semester ahead. We were just asked to meet with our academic advisors about classes that we wanted to sign up for during the first semester. As we navigated the course list and soon began to narrow our lists of classes, I was faced with the decision to take another lab science class, or, take the advice from my friend who was enrolling in humanities classes despite his interest in engineering. Thankfully, I, too, signed up for a class that I would never have expected to take at this time last year: an interpretational theory course. Combining the study of philosophy and religion, I was excited, but admittedly hesitant, to take a class that combined two subjects I had never studied in the past.

One of my RAs recommended a religion class that she took during her freshman year at Swarthmore. At that point, I had until the next day to decide if I would take a humanities class. Luckily, after seeing a Rate my Professor video featuring faculty reading student reviews on camera, I recognized the same processor that my RA recommend, Mark Wallace. The quirky, rather funny segments of this video allowed me to take the step to enroll in the religion class, despite my reservations of its difficulty.

The class, Philosophy of Religion, offered some of the most transformative experiences during my first semester.

At the end of orientation, I met with the professor to talk a bit about the upcoming semester. Going into this meeting, I thought several minutes of time with him would be the extent of our first encounter. But, my intimidating vision of students lined outside his door for office hours turned out to be the furthermost thing from the truth. Our hour-long conversation made me feel right at home before classes even began. I became far more assured that this class was going to be impactful (in a positive way!) and transformative. That initial meeting conveyed his authentic nature that I was soon to see as common at Swarthmore. The caring, non-competitive vibe is something that you should look for if you have the chance to visit campus.

Back to my experience in this class, I arrived early for our first class and spoke with some other students. I was surprised to hear that the majority of the class was not from one particular major or area of the college.

It was soon clear that my decision to take this humanities course allowed me to further connect with my classmates and relate the coursework to my own day-to-day interactions that stretched outside of the classroom.

Pictured above is our class during break from discussing a recent reading from the week

Math, English, and art majors brought together a very unique set of viewpoints. And our strong bond made as a class extended beyond the learning of the thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard that we read. Rather, our seminar was one that we all looked forward to every week as a chance to relate our readings to experiences outside the classroom.

In fact, the Community Based Learning (CBL) volunteer opportunities, as well as the time we spent as a group outside of class, were perhaps the most memorable parts of the course. The Community Based Learning (CBL) experience allowed us to participate in community engagement projects for several hours per week in nearby communities. Our CBL placements ranged from tutoring underserved students in local schools to serving as student mentors to elementary and middle school peers.

Pictured above was one of several other classes that also used the Crum Woods as a setting to host class.

Looking back at the course, we were able to bring our discussions from the classroom out to the Crum Woods in some instances. This setting in the Crum Woods gave us the opportunity to continue our class discussions while physically seeing and interacting with the topics that we were studying.

Throughout the term, our class continued to develop this strong bond through these interactions. In fact, our class represented viewpoints from all class years and a wide array of majors. In fact, my discussion group was made up of neuroscience, philosophy, and engineering majors. The small class size of fewer than 20 students was far different than the lecture hall seating hundreds of students that I originally envisioned the course to look like before we began. Overall, this unique environment provided an outlet for thought-provoking discussions during class.

Professor Wallace encouraged our class discussions to be open and thought-provoking. When I began the class, I was particularly interested in our student-led discussions. By creating this environment, we were able to investigate the readings from a different student perspective every week.

Beyond our interactions during the seminar, we came together as a group to watch films of several of the works that we recently read outside of our standing meeting time. In fact, these instances were, in my view, just as memorable as our formal class time. This setting encouraged us to further our discussions in an alternative environment in comparison to our traditional conversations during class.

I am grateful to have had the chance to take a class that falls outside my traditional interests in the sciences. All in all, during your first semester I would recommend stepping out of your comfort zone because you too could find your way into a class that you never thought of taking beforehand.