Six Students Reflect on Trinity’s Intellectual and Social Landscape

A Major Factor in Stoking Students’ Curiosity is Faculty Engagement

HARTFORD, CT, November 2, 2012 – Although the six students who comprised a Common Hour panel Thursday came to Trinity from different locales, have different majors and have participated in different activities during their time here, they seemed to agree on one  fundamental idea – the key to nurturing and fostering students’ intellectual curiosity is having outstanding and engaged faculty members.

Indeed, several of the students cited specific faculty members who have served as mentors, role models, advisers, and great communicators and who have helped bring out the best in the students and inspired them to reach their potential. The professors who go the extra mile by spending additional time with students, dining with them and interacting in a variety of ways have made their Trinity careers special, the panelists said.

The discussion, “Cultivating the Curious Student: Crossing the Boundaries between Social and Intellectual Life,” was sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning and is one in a series of Common Hour events devoted to this subject. A panel discussion highlighting faculty members’ views will be held on November 15.

The six students who participated Thursday were all from the Class of 2013: Paige Greene from Baltimore, MD; Logan Marro from Cherry Hill, NJ; Emily Howe from Memphis, TN; Elizabeth Preysner from Wethersfield, CT; Anna Seidner from Old Lyme, CT; and Shawna Berk from Long Beach, CA. Selected for the program because each is deemed to be an exemplary student, the students’ majors include public policy and law, political science, English, Hispanic studies, chemistry, human rights and psychology.

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 The students, all members of the Class of '13, are (from left to right): Paige Greene, Logan Marro, Emily Howe, Elizabeth Preysner, Anna Seidner and Shawna Berk.

Christopher Hager, assistant professor of English and a co-director this year of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said the purpose of the discussion was to delve into how Trinity’s social and intellectual life interact and “what is working well and what is not working well.” He added that it’s beneficial for the faculty to hear directly from students in terms of what has made their Trinity classroom experiences “alive and meaningful.”

Each of the students had a different story to tell, although clearly there was agreement on a central theme: that engaged professors result in academically engaged students.

Greene was the first to speak and she noted that she applied to Trinity because she wanted to attend a school that was a “great academic institution” and also offered “a fun environment.” But she added that the groundwork for her success was laid during her first year at Trinity when she was “inspired” by faculty in the public policy and law department, specifically Adrienne Fulco and Ned Cabot. She talked about the importance of social interaction outside of the classroom, which enriched her classroom experience and said she also appreciated Cabot’s Socratic method of teaching.

Next up was Marro, who “stumbled upon Trinity” when considering which schools to apply to. At the time, he said, he didn’t fully understand “what a liberal arts education meant.” But he noted that his first-year professors challenged him in the classroom, “giving me the opportunity to grow and learn.” Marro said another factor in his fulfillment as a Trinity student was trying various activities and “sticking with the ones that I cared about.”

Howe, who is the only student to have come to Trinity from her high school in Tennessee, said she arrived not knowing what to expect or what she wanted to do. But she said that she benefitted from taking a variety of courses, which offered her “a diverse perspective.” She also said that having “positive experiences with professors” helped her find her way. “I never felt like a number here,” Howe said. She also emphasized that being in Hartford was an asset because it fulfilled her desire to be involved in community service.

That view was echoed by Seidner, who found that having professors take their students to arts events in Hartford was “a great way to bond and a great way to get to know Hartford.” Seidner also said she has enjoyed the Community Learning Initiative (CLI) component of her classes, which has allowed her to become involved in city life. “It sparks students’ interests in a different way – by enriching the discussion in class,” she said. Seidner also said that living in The Fred has provided her with a uniquely satisfying experience.

Preysner, whose home is only about three miles from campus, said she chose Trinity because she thought that attending college close to where she grew up would help her to adjust to college life more easily. She said that’s been true, both socially and academically. Like the other students, she said her first-year experience was very satisfying and she credited it with helping her decide on a major. She singled out Trinity’s Guided Studies program for praise.

The six panelists offered other thoughts and suggestions for improving academic life at Trinity, including the importance of accountability. The six panelists offered other thoughts and suggestions for improving academic life at Trinity, including the importance of accountability. The panelists believe students who don’t do all of the required work  or attend class should face the consequences of  lower or failing grades. 

They also said that students can thrive by finding their niche or passion and not following the crowd. 

Other suggestions for enhancing the academic experience at Trinity included maintaining gender parity; increasing the opportunities for community involvement; continuing to prod students to study abroad; encouraging students to assume leadership roles; challenging students to do more than just vegetate in the back of a classroom; creating a welcoming environment where all types of students feel comfortable; having a better geographic balance; and finding ways to combat student apathy.