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Faculty scores high with J-Term

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hands-on, experiential learning is a hallmark of Mercyhurst University in all seasons, but perhaps never more so than during the new January term (commonly known as the J-term).

Under the new academic calendar adopted at Mercyhurst this academic year, the Jan. 6-24 J-term will allow students to focus on a single subject for three weeks. It’s a perfect time to study abroad, do an internship, conduct a research project, or simply delve into a subject in greater depth than is possible during a regular semester.

Four faculty-led groups will fan out around the globe during this first J-term.

David Dausey, Ph.D., dean of the School of Health Professions and Public Health, is taking a group to Vietnam to explore the long-term health impacts of war. Students will be immersed in the Vietnamese culture, visit a variety of historical sites, and see firsthand the impact that war has had on the health and wellness of the Vietnamese people.

Natasha Duncan, Ph.D., of the political science department has created a course called “Humanigration” that will survey changes in U.S. immigration policy over time, studying the human component of the issue as well as legal and economic concerns. Following in-class preparation, the group will visit a U.S.-Mexico border site, and perhaps Mexico itself, before returning to campus to debrief.

English Professor Heidi Hosey, Ph.D., who also serves as dean of international education, is taking students to Ireland to study Celtic mythology. After reading texts from early Irish myth, the group will travel widely through Ireland to experience the sites depicted. They’ll also spend a week at Mercyhurst’s facility in Dungarvan. 

Another group will enjoy a “Guyana Experience” led by Laura Lewis, Ph.D., professor of social work.  After some classroom preparation, they’ll spend 11 days in the South American nation where they’ll explore the history and culture of Guyana, visit social welfare agencies and engage in volunteer work. They’ll spend considerable time with the boys at the St. John Bosco Orphanage.

Students staying stateside can also choose from a variety of innovative courses. The ability to focus intensely on a single topic and to schedule longer class meetings has allowed faculty to design unique experiences for their students. Some of the courses are major requirements, while others fulfill liberal arts core requirements. Just a few examples:

“Mathematics Applications” will explore how mathematics relates to other fields of study. Chad Redmond, Ph.D., has developed a course on the mathematics of music that will include working with a digital audio workstation and a music programming language. Lauren Williams, Ph.D., a mathematics professor who’s also a talented artist, will teach the mathematics of art.

Arts appreciation takes a new turn in “Chinese Cultures through the Martial Arts,” taught by Daliang Wang, Ed.D. The course will explore the history of Chinese martial arts and their bases in Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, as well as introduce students to the arts themselves.

Scott McKenzie, who curates Mercyhurst’s Sincak Natural History Collection, will teach “Science on Display.” Behind-the-scenes visits to a variety of area museums will reveal how museums work and how they create educational science displays.

Students in “Film Narrative and Theory,” taught by Gregory Brown, Ph.D., will be able to view and analyze films in class to understand the techniques, strengths and limitations of film as a medium for storytelling.

Greg Clepper, production manager at the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center, will teach “Performance Production.”  During the quiet early weeks of January, students will be introduced to all phases of production, from scenery, lighting and audio to costume design, stage management and facility management. The course will culminate in hands-on experience preparing for a performance by the international dance company Kafig.

Meghan Corbin, chair of the communication department, will teach “Crisis Communication.” Students will start with a classroom introduction to the planning process and case studies, practice through simulations, and finally work with real-world local clients to develop crisis plans.

Three philosophy professors will offer Philosophical Studies on thought-provoking subjects. Kevin Sullivan, Ph.D., will focus on “Revolutions,” exploring how ideas and political thought can lead to change in social and political systems. He’ll discuss the American Revolution as well as more recent examples like the overthrow of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Arab Spring in the Middle East.

Liz Swan, Ph.D., will consider “Consciousness,” discussing the nature of the 21st century human mind and the long history of how it got to be that way. For example, how did free will, our sense of right and wrong, and our talents in poetry and athletics evolve?

In “Institutional Sociopathy,” Thomas Donahue, Ph.D., will consider whether the criteria of individual sociopathy can also be applied to institutions and organizations.

Sara Turner, Ph.D., of the biology department will use J-term to explore “Cancer: Biology and Beyond,” including speakers who’ll address all aspects of the dreaded illness.

PHOTO: Public Health Professor David Dausey, Ph.D., center, has taken students to Mexico for the “Lifelong Mobility Project,” aimed at helping the disabled get better access to wheelchairs. To his immediate left is Mercyhurst student Catherine Johnson and, next to her, Molly Byrne. The others are student collaborators from the University of Pittsburgh. For the J-term, Dausey will take another group of Mercyhurst students to Vietnam to explore the long-term health impacts of war.