A GENUINE FOCUS ON STUDENTS
The College of Language and Letters
Article written by students enrolled in professional writing and editing.
Across the campus, many faculty members’ doors stand open. Office hours are posted next to every door. Instructors often leave a classroom ten minutes after class has ended, answering one last question for a line of inquisitive students. Students and teachers bump into one another and engage in friendly conversation. Scenes such as these are scattered across campus, and these images represent the attitude of the instructors at BYU–Idaho.
With the announcement that Ricks College would become a four-year university, many skeptics worried this would negatively impact the individual attention students receive. However, this fear has been proven false. The College of Language and Letters is just one area on campus where the charge to rethink education has been directed by the question: “How can we better serve our students?” In addition to the many innovations within the college, teachers in the Departments of English, Humanities and Philosophy, Foreign Languages and Literatures, and Academic Learning continue to ensure that BYU–Idaho will “remain very much the teaching-oriented, student-oriented institution it has always been.”
Opportunities for Learning Beyond the Classroom
A New Department—Academic Learning
Students across campus can take advantage of the newest addition to the College of Language and Letters: the Department of Academic Learning. In January 2004, the Learning Assistance Lab became an official department. According to Karl Edwards, department chair, this change will facilitate communication between the various centers housed within the department: Writing, Reading, Tutoring, Math Study, and Study Skills.
The sole focus of this department has been and will continue to be the academic progress of the students. “The greatest strength of our department is the academic support that we offer in reading, writing, math, study skills, and all academic subjects,” says Edwards. “Our services are available to all students who want or need to supplement what they receive in their classes.” With this focus in mind, the labs have grown to serve more and more students and currently work with over 5,000 students each school year.
Not only do students who visit the labs benefit, but the students employed by the department also have a wonderful opportunity for growth. The various centers fill approximately 270 tutoring positions each year. These tutors and assistants “benefit most from our services,” says Edwards. “They become experts in the areas they tutor. They also develop skills in working with and teaching others.” Savannah Erekson, a junior from Atlanta, Ga., and a Writing Center assistant, says she appreciates the opportunity to explain concepts to others because it solidifies these same things for herself.
Student Organizations and Opportunities for Involvement
The college also provides students opportunities for learning outside academics. Organizations such as the English Academic Society offer students a chance to develop leadership skills and prepare for future careers. In November 2003, the society sponsored the Pre-professional Conference for English majors. After opening remarks by Marc Johnson, chair of the Idaho Humanities Council, individual sessions presented information on careers in secondary education, professional writing, and creative writing. Additionally, representatives from BYU’s master’s program in English and law school held workshops about preparing for graduate school. The conference ended with students sharing their own critical essays and creative writing. “The conference is a great experience for students to present to their peers,” says Paula Soper, the assistant academic advisor for the conference. “It provides a secure environment for students to share ideas, as well as a chance to meet professionals within their prospective fields.”
Other educational opportunities come through the service-learning activities connected to various courses. Matt Benyo, a freshman from Appleton, Wisc., is currently enrolled in a beginning Spanish course. He enjoys learning the facts and customs he needs to know in order to interact within the culture he is studying. His course also provides the chance to practice his developing language skills. “Our instructor gives us the opportunity to gain some practical experience. She teaches English to Spanish speakers in the community and invites us to help in her class,” says Matt. “We can interact with her Spanish students in their native tongue.” Instructors view these experiences as a valuable asset in providing a real-world context for the material their students are learning.
Students can also augment their education by taking advantage of the various academic tours directed by faculty within the College of Language and Letters. These tours are designed to enhance students’ academic careers and provide first-hand experience related to what they are learning in the classroom.
The faculty in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is currently putting together study abroad programs for South America and China. In the past they have worked with Brigham Young University in Provo, taking students to Germany, France, Belgium, and other European countries, as well as visiting Jerusalem.
The department hopes these programs will be underway soon. Until then, students can choose from the three tours that are housed within the College of Language and Letters: the British Literary, Mesoamerican, and European Tours.
In 2003 the British Literary and Humanities Tours were cancelled because of international conflicts. Critics have recently expressed concerns about these tours because of international unrest, as well as expense and taking teachers away from a growing campus. However, Kip Hartvigsen and Jeff Andersen, chairs of the Department of English and the Department of Humanities and Philosophy respectively, fully support the tours and feel they are an extraordinary opportunity for students.
Troy Scoffield, a student who participated in the British Literary Tour in 2002, explains how the tour helped him rethink his connection to the world. “I’m more passionate now about what the teachers give me in class. Going on tour has taken away the intimidation of learning about people. They’re real people, and I can relate to them. I never would have learned these things if I hadn’t gone.”
Vaughn Stephenson, director of the Humanities European Tour, says that providing students the opportunity to see the world “reorders thinking about life.” He says, “The processes that are taken to prepare to go on tour academically enhance the students as well as the professors.”
Course Innovations—Strengthening the Curriculum
Accommodating Student Interests in English
With the charge to rethink education, instructors in the College of Language and Letters have labored to design their curricula to serve and meet the academic needs of the students.
While designing its four-year program, the Department of English tailored its majors to match students’ individual interests. The department offers baccalaureate degrees in two areas: English and English Education. However, within these areas, the department has established emphases that accommodate many interests and career goals: literary studies, professional writing, creative writing, and secondary education.
Each emphasis provides a capstone course students take when they are seniors. These capstone courses apply the knowledge students have acquired throughout their four years into a final, practical experience. Students get “a taste of the real world” in these courses. For example, secondary education majors complete a semester of student teaching in local high schools and middle schools. Professional writing majors write, edit, and then submit material for actual publication.
The Humanities and Philosophy Department— Serving the Entire Campus
The Department of Humanities and Philosophy is unlike other departments across campus. Ninety-five percent of this department’s resources go to general education classes, according to Jeff Andersen, department chair. Instructors teach students who are either fulfilling general education requirements or earning a minor in humanities or philosophy.
Because this department offers no four-year degrees, students often take only one or two of these classes to fulfill a general requirement. With the students’ benefit in mind, instructors have designed these courses—incorporating much of their knowledge into each class— to give students a solid foundation in the humanities and/or philosophy in only a few classes. However, students may rely on this foundation for the rest of their lives.
Brian Merrill, a philosophy instructor, says that because the department does not offer four-year degrees, they have an opportunity to change the traditional format of classes from narrow, restrictive, rigid preparation for specialized degrees, to valuable, stand-alone curriculum. This allows students to focus on what will be important to their individual education.
A New Focus in Foreign Languages and Literatures
With the students’ academic experiences in mind, the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures has incorporated literature classes into its upper-level courses. Because of the change and refinement, the former Department of Foreign Languages has been renamed the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
Brent Strong, chair of the department, says, “Our goal initially is to teach foreign languages, but we also broaden the horizons of the students to various cultures.” Adding more literature courses to the program is one step toward accomplishing this goal. The literature exposes students to culture and civilization, as well as a greater understanding of the language. For example, students are exposed to poems, short stories, plays, and other forms of literature to broaden their exposure of the language. Class assignments include writing analytical, interpretive essays of a certain work. These assignments are completed in the target language.
Strong believes combining the study of language with the study of literature will help the department reach its goal “to teach foreign language to the students at BYU–Idaho with a broader focus of expanding their understanding of what other peoples and other nations are all about.”
A Program Fulfilling Inspired Goals
In 2001, Elder Henry B. Eyring spoke to students and faculty about the transition to a four-year university. In addition to outlining the upcoming changes, Elder Eyring presented a vision of this transition’s goal. Referring to the students who would graduate from BYU–Idaho, he stated: “They will be natural leaders who know how to teach and how to learn. They will have the power to innovate and improve without requiring more of what money can buy. Those graduates of BYU–Idaho will become … legendary for their capacity to build the people around them and to add value wherever they serve.”
As students graduate from the College of Language and Letters, they will realize this objective, in part, by reflecting the genuine concern they experienced during their education. In the many innovations that have occurred throughout the college, there has been a significant constant—the caring relationship between students and instructors. As the college and university continue to develop, students and faculty will still enjoy this relationship. Students will feel it in the comfortable conversations they share with instructors about assignments. Instructors will see it in a student’s expression while sharing an insight during a class discussion. Students will hear it as teachers openly share and discuss various concerns in the classroom. Faculty and students will both enjoy an environment where students are the primary focus.