SRS Sends Sophomores Out of the Country for Free

Julia Queller

As part of the pilot program of Sophomore Residential Seminars (SRS) 57 students and three professors recently returned from all-inclusive week-long trips during the winter break to either Paris, Jerusalem or Costa Rica.

SRS are living-learning communities in which select sophomores take a course during the fall semester and then travel to a destination that is in some way connected to the subject material studied.

The three courses offered for the 2013-2014 academic year were Existentialism, taught by Associate Professor of Philosophy David Dudrick, Jerusalem: City of the Gods, taught by Associate Professor of Religion and Jewish Studies Lesleigh Cushing and the History of Coffee and Cigarettes, taught by Associate Professor of History Robert Nemes. These classes traveled to Paris, Jerusalem and Costa Rica, respectively.

“Each of the trips were different, but for all of them, the topics of the course comes alive during the trip. They become a reality in a way that they’re not quite during the term,” Dudrick said.

Students said that the trip was a valuable addition to the course and helped them more fully engage with the material.

“The trip was a way to wake up in the morning thinking about existentialism,” said sophomore Sale Rhodes, who took the Existentialism course and traveled to Paris. “It made those of us who aren’t super into philosophy think about it more in our daily lives, which we wouldn’t necessarily have.”

Elaina Atallah, a sophomore in the Coffee and Cigarettes course, enjoyed applying what she learned in the course to her excursion.

“The trip definitely was necessary in learning about the terms of working conditions and fair trade, which was something I learned about, but couldn’t actually see,” she said. “So going to the plantations and seeing how the locals interacted within the coffee industry was really fulfilling.”

As part of the fall semester course, each student researched a specific destination in order to act as an expert tour guide for his or her classmates when visiting the site in January.

“I love that these kids have never set foot in this place in their lives, and they’re saying ‘look for this,'” Cushing said. “I loved following the kid whose site we were in because they were just totally animated that now they were really seeing what they had studied.”

The SRS program, while providing a unique opportunity for sophomores through its travel component, also offers students a different type of residential environment through its prioritization of a living-learning community. Students live with their classmates on the fourth and fifth floors of Drake Hall and also attend class in their dorm, utilizing the fourth-floor common room, which was converted into a classroom for the SRS program.

“It was neat being able to knock next door to ask a question about homework and then have a cool conversation about the material,” said sophomore Turner Rapp, who travelled to Jerusalem.

“The proximity fostered a more academic environment in that it created a community where everyone here is genuinely interested in what we’re studying. When you put all those people together, it creates a broader learning experience because there’s always the potential to have a discussion about the material,” Rapp said.

“I strongly feel that there needs to be more intellectual engagement on campus and having this living situation provided me with that,” Atallah said. “I was exposed to people who have an interest beyond partying and hanging out and who talked about things that are actually relevant to the greater world.”

Dudrick said one of the best parts of the SRS experience was how students who, under normal circumstances in their social circles at Colgate might not have interacted, came together to form a community.

“I’ve heard someone say that before the trip they felt that they did have a real intellectual community, but after the trip they really feel like they’re friends. They’re invested in each other, and I feel the same way,” Dudrick said.

“SRS attracts students who want to be engaged intellectually, who may not have been able to find a community of like-minded people at Colgate yet or who are not

interested in the predominant culture that’s here,” Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Scholars Programs Peter Tschirhart said.

According to Tschirhart, the international portion of the budget was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which was the impetus to get the program moving, and the domestic portion, which includes a full semester of extracurricular programming, excursions and social activities, was funded by Colgate.

In addition to the fall semester course and the free trip during winter break, the SRS program also consists of a .25 credit spring semester course designed to extend students’ engagement with the subject material and maintain their tight-knit communities. The three professors are taking different approaches to the spring semester class by either taking field trips or exploring the popular culture of their destination.

SRS will continue next year; first-years are currently undergoing the application process.

When preparing the program last year, Nemes worried that there might not be enough interest among students, so he found it gratifying when he received a strong showing of applications and when each of the 57 students who were chosen to become a part of the program accepted the offer.

In contrast, next year, the SRS program will expand to consist of four classes in order to meet the high demand, with the courses travelling to Paris, Costa Rica, New Mexico and Texas.  

“There’s a big difference between teaching 20 individual students and teaching a community,” Dudrick said. “The students were comfortable with each other… so that really allowed the discussions to be intimate in a way that I just don’t think you can have in other classes. I didn’t think I could love teaching at Colgate any more than I already did, but this experience has made me love it even more.”

Contact Julia Queller at [email protected]