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Will This Be on the Final?

It’s the little rituals as much as the syllabus that create community in the classroom – and SNC professors embrace them!

By its nature, academic life is a series of beginnings and ends – a four-part calendar of fall semesters, winter breaks, spring semesters and summer breaks. The start of each semester is a beginning of new relationships and new opportunities; the end is a flying-from-the-nest with sights set far ahead. At St. Norbert, many mark the occasions in special ways that over the years have become ritual and tradition.

New Beginnings
Jamie Lynch (Sociology) looks for answers to quirky questions to facilitate discussion on the first day. Some queries in his repertoire: “What interests you more: flavored shirts or candy with sleeves?” “If tomatoes are a fruit, does that make ketchup a smoothie?” “What animal would you ride into battle?” Some answers: “Everyone wants to ride a giraffe into battle for some reason! Candy sleeves are a big winner,” Lynch says.

AnaMaria Seglie Clawson (English) asks students to arrange themselves in concentric circles, with one circle of students facing the other. They answer agree-or-disagree questions and are given 60 seconds per question before the circles rotate and each student faces another partner and another question.

Barb Stoll (Gateway Seminar) asks her first-year students to walk around the room anonymously answering questions that ask about their study habits, why they want to attend college, and what they’re most excited about as they begin their college careers. (Meeting new people, and Dining Services’ cafeteria food, topped the list for that question).

Parisa Meymand (English) preps for the year by doing some back-to-school shopping for herself, usually in the form of new clothes and items that help her office feel more welcoming and organized. “This year, I bought a small succulent plant for my window to help bring some nature back in my workspace!”

Carolyne Roepke ’20 looks forward to getting to know new classmates’ names in courses led by Katie Ries (Art). “She has everyone stand up and get in a circle to get the creative juices flowing. She will then proceed to tell us that we must come up with an action or pose for our name, and when it comes time to state your name, you will do your action,” Roepke says. “After everyone has done their action, she will start again and go around the circle; however, this time around you have to do the actions and state the names of everyone who went before you as well as your own. … I think that this is such a creative and unique way to get to know everyone in your class.”

Angel Saavedra Cisneros (Political Science) and his American Multicultural Politics students start the course by going over the SNC Civility Statement, “exploring it carefully and pondering its implications,” Cisneros says. “Since Convocation has just happened, I like to remind students of what we all pledged to do as a campus community. It is hard in these polarized times.”

Karlyn Crowley (CVC, Women’s & Gender Studies) makes sure her students understand her own background before they embark on a new semester together: “I always tell my own origin story about why I love whatever it is I’m teaching, and what it was like when I was their age and encountered it. I believe in reminding students that professors are learners also and had a start somewhere.”

Carrie Kissman (Biology) takes her students outside for a walk through campus, encouraging them to look at things through an ecological lens that allows them to notice for the first time the patterns and systems that surround them.

Before speaking another word, Ed Risden (English) gets students guessing by reciting “Caedmon’s Hymn” in Old English to show students that English is a Germanic language, not a Romantic one, and so they can get a sense for how much the language has changed over time. “They usually enjoy the recitation, or seem to,” he says. “They get into its rhythm and musicality.”

Erik Brekke (Physics) often leads one of the first lab sessions of the semester – which happens to conflict with the sweetest first-day tradition at SNC: the president’s annual ice cream social on Baer Mall. So during a break from lab work, Brekke makes sure to include a walk for ice cream each fall semester.

Before each conference meet, Coach Don Augustine (Track & Field, Cross Country) asks his athletes to write a thank-you letter to someone who has helped them on their journey. By the end of the season, they’ll have written at least eight such letters.

Kate Ludwig ’22 takes a photo of herself each school year wearing the same outfit on both the first and last day of class. It’s something she’s done since eighth grade. “I wanted to see how I myself was changing, how I was progressing.”

Sustenance for the journey
Joel Mann (Philosophy) brings in Greek food, including baklava, for students to enjoy while he gives a “whirlwind tour of the Hellenistic philosophy zoo.”

AnaMaria Seglie Clawson builds a trivia game from course material, and students play in teams while eating cookies.

Gratzia Villaroel (International Studies) hosts a pizza party while students present their end-of-semester projects.

Mya McDaniel ’21 says Russ Feirer (Biology) made a final lab session memorable when he brought in special types of treats. “We were learning about fruits at the same time the semester was winding down. Then, in our following lab, Dr. Feirer brought in an example of every type of fruit and passed them around,” she says. “We had a bigger lab section, but that didn’t stop us from bonding over fruit as one of our final labs. It really made for a fun experience, and we got a healthy snack out of it, too!”

After preparing for and presenting at the State of the Economy address, Marc Schaffer takes students working in the Center for Business & Economic Analysis to a celebratory dinner at a nice restaurant.

“One of the most impactful traditions comes at the end of the year when we gather for our final meal together with our student staff,” says Susan Angoli (Sturzl Center). During the meal, students share a reflection on the year and seniors pass down any wisdom or insights they’ve gained.

Dave Wegge (Political Science, Emeritus) surprised his classes with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and a visit from his wife, daughter and grandchildren “to show that there is so much more to life than classwork.”

Kodee Zarnke ’21 enjoys the end-of-semester celebrations with Deirdre Egan-Ryan (English), who invites students to her home for brunch with her family. “We celebrate the end of the semester with coffee, bagels, fruit and the company of her dog, Digger, who both times nabbed the container of cream cheese from the table.”

After Global Seminars abroad, Rosemary Sands (CNS) invites students over to cook the cuisines they experienced during their trips. They learned to cook homemade pasta after a trip to Italy and plan to make Spanish tortilla after walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

The late Tom Faase (Sociology, Emeritus) and his wife Debra Faase (Education) would invite students to share meals with their family. “I can still picture the dining table and kitchen and plates of Tom and Debbie Faase, and their little ones at the time, Chelsea Faase ’08 [GLAD Camp], Morgan Faase and Noah Faase running around, helping prepare food, showing us their rooms, and then sitting to eat and talk with all of us,” remembers Carol (Sessler) Bruess ’90. “That was one of my favorite, most distinct memories from 30 years ago.”

Lasting impressions
Mark “Coach” Glantz (Communication & Media Studies) and his classes play “Le Beanbag,” a review game in which students toss around a stuffed Norby doll. “It’s always fun, as is everything with Coach,” says Addy Bink ’20.

Eric Hagedorn (Philosophy) always ends his Philosophical Foundations in the Study of Human Nature course with a reading of “The Value of Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell – inviting his students to reflect on what they did and did not find valuable about their experience of the course. “I also give a short concluding lecture/apology, which students apparently appreciate,” he says.

For the past 10 years, Rebecca Lahti ’00 (Emmaus Center) has taken photos of her student staff at the beginning and end of each year. When they graduate, Lahti sends each of them a custom-designed mug featuring their photos from throughout their time with the center. “I always order an extra mug for myself so that I can remember all of the ALIVE students I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years,” she says. “I just had to start a new shelf for [year] No. 10.”

In Introduction to Women’s & Gender Studies, students write a letter to their future selves about what they want to remember from the course. Karlyn Crowley mails the letters to each student the next semester, “when everything seems long forgotten.”

Kathleen Gallagher Elkins (Theology & Religious Studies) borrowed her end-of-semester activity from her graduate school advisor. She asks her students to answer two questions: “When you leave this course, what do you take with you? And what do you leave behind?” Answers range from funny to profound, she says. “I always answer, too. It’s one of my favorite parts of the whole semester.”

And, back in the art department, Katie Ries and her students spend their last class of the semester cleaning the studios or printshops together, listening to music while they scrub tables, sweep floors, repaint surfaces and “generally restore order,” Ries says. “It reminds me of cleaning a garden for winter: making way for the things to come.”

Providing closure
Over the course of a semester, students and the faculty who lead their classes create an individual community, and research shows it’s important to provide closure when it comes time for that community to disband. “After a great deal of time developing a sense of comfort and community in the classroom, ignoring class endings seems awkward and abrupt to both students and faculty,” say psychologists Tami Eggleston and Gabie E. Smith. End-of-semester activities also provide an opportunity to stimulate interest in the topic area, wrap up the class in ways that add to students’ semester-long experience and sense of accomplishment, and increase the connection between faculty and students.

Oct. 31, 2019