Senior Experience program initiates department changes

Bridget Donnelly

Lawrence voted to implement a Senior Experience program during Spring Term of 2007, and the funding for such a program was secured with the awarding of a $350,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the fall of 2008.

Though various departments on campus have been integrating elements of the Senior Experience into their curricula since the implementation of the program, members of the class of 2012 are the first students for which fulfillment of a Senior Experience project is required.

While the intention of the Senior Experience program is to create somewhat of a bookend to Freshman Studies, each academic department has approached the requirement differently. Some departments previously required a capstone project, recital or other culmination of their major experience, while others have had to make adjustments to their programs.

Provost and Dean of the Faculty David Burrows commented, “These departments have worked hard, and very creatively, to construct their Senior Experience program. In some cases this has meant that other parts of the curriculum had to be changed, in order that faculty and students have room in their schedules for the Senior Experience program.”

The English and art history departments, among others, have had to incorporate such changes and are piloting new courses this term.

The English department’s new course, a senior seminar, is being taught for the first time this term by Associate Professor of English and Bonnie Glidden Buchanan Professor of English Timothy Spurgin.

The course was designed with the intent of bringing together the interests of the department’s faculty under a major theme. The theme for this year and next year’s Senior Seminar is “Creativity.” Faculty members and recent alumni will talk to the students in this class about their primary fields of interest in order to allow for a diversity of topics in this culminating course.

Spurgin was enthusiastic about the changes that have occurred within the department, expressing that it “is a very healthy thing for us all to be looking back, taking stock.”

However, the English department offers other alternatives to the seminar course, counting honors projects, student teaching and creative writing projects towards completion of the requirement.

Professor of Art History and Ottilia Buerger Professor of Classical Studies Carol Lawton explained that the Senior Experience in Art History involves two courses. One course, The Methods of Art History, has been offered previously, but the Senior Research Seminar is being offered for the first time this term.

Both Lawton and Spurgin explained that the courses have been proceeding well so far and student reception has been positive. Both courses focus to a great extent upon individual research and writing, in an effort to bring together the major experience in creative and individualized ways.

Lawton expressed the ways in which the new art history seminar course will aid students as they finish their major. “[W]ith the new capstone,” said Lawton, “we have essentially added another level and the challenge of bringing greater focus and sophistication to our seniors’ culminating work in art history… I think that the students are finding it satisfying to be able to devote this much time and attention to a very specific research project.”

Burrows explained that the campus response to the Senior Experience has generally been positive, as various departments endeavor to make the necessary changes towards their respective requirements.

“This has been done in the spirit of making Senior Experience a meaningful part of a Lawrence education for all students,” said Burrows.

He continued, “The goal of the requirement is to have each student have a chance to do work that is individualized, integrates knowledge gained in and outside the major and explores a topic or topics in great depth.”

As the 2011 year comes to an end, student input on new courses will be an invaluable part of structuring Senior Experience requirements in years to come.

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