By Michelle Adams
On April 11, Shenandoah University students, across all schools and majors, participated in a final event for the semester-long General Education Town Hall initiative. The event spanned for most of the evening, and brought students and faculty together with community professionals to identify world issues and discuss possible solutions.
Adapted from a model introduced by California State University at Chico, students in Town Hall classes across the university spent the semester researching their chosen topics, and then developing creative, but practical, solutions. To conclude their investigations, experts on each topic were introduced to the students in the Town Hall event, where they led small groups in debates, and helped students further craft their solutions.
Many classes in varying fields of study were involved with the program, including statistics, public speaking, and dance. In each class, students were given the choice of a variety of research topics, like gun control and immigration, on which they were given three major assignments. The students were challenged to find reputable news sources to examine their issues. To assist with the research, the classes were provided with a professional writing tutor, which was, reportedly, extremely helpful for the students.
Director of General Education at SU, Amy Sarch, Ph.D., was excited to see students expanding their minds in anticipation of the event.
“These students are so engaged in their topics…and [they are] having conversations with each other, [and] being influenced by each other.” Because of the initiative, “they care about real issues in a way that they generally knew about before, but now they’re looking at it in such great depth,” she said.
While the semester-long concept got mostly positive responses, the ending event in April served mixed reactions from students.
Many reported feeling more involved with community after the event, and being better suited to solve real world issues as they transition from college to career.
Others, like junior English major Samantha Maddy, felt that improvements could be made to the final event.
“In my first session, half of the group was interested, but the other half was not at all,” she recalled. “But once I got to the second group, all the interested people were in there, so I actually had a good experience.”
Additionally, as this was the pilot run of the Town Hall initiative at Shenandoah, many students and professors were unclear and confused throughout the semester about the goals of the program.
“The concept was good, but I wish I had been more prepared earlier in the semester,” said junior psychology major Deborah Ehrenreich. “If I could do it again, I’d have done more research and even rehearsed what I would say [at the event].”
“Overall, my experience [with Town Hall] was positive,” said Maddy.
Because of the overall optimism about the program, and it is likely that Town Hall will remain and grow at Shenandoah in years to come.
Feature photo courtesy of Emily Mangubat