LU plans “Senior Experience

Veronica Devore

In five years, the months and weeks surrounding commencement will feel even more exciting, hectic, celebratory and bittersweet for graduating seniors, thanks to a new program to be implemented at Lawrence beginning with the class of 2012.
Through this program, dubbed the “Senior Experience,” graduating Lawrentians will be required to produce a final project that both culminates and celebrates their achievements as undergraduates.
According to Provost and Dean of the Faculty David Burrows, who led the Curriculum Committee in developing the program, the Senior Experience is a good fit for Lawrence because it embodies models of individualized instruction that have been an important part of the university for a long time.
“Many departments already have features of this type of program in place,” Burrows said, citing senior art projects, senior recitals, and the history department’s senior seminar as examples.
“The Senior Experience will inject power and richness into the Lawrence education and will capitalize on what we’re already doing in many departments,” he added.
Burrows emphasized the flexibility of the proposed program, as seniors will work closely with faculty to choose a project that fits both their interests and their chosen discipline.
Conceptually, it will be up to each academic department to structure specific requirements for the project and to determine how logistics such as scheduling will work.
The model for the Senior Experience is one used at many small, liberal arts colleges like Lawrence. During the recent Oxford Tutorial conference, a presenter from Ohio’s College of Wooster explained their tradition.
They host “Independent Study Day,” a celebration that occurs after seniors turn in their final projects. Seniors then receive a parade, a pizza party, and even a symbolic Tootsie Roll candy in their honor.
Burrows envisions a similar, if slightly tamer, celebration at Lawrence, with the completion of seniors’ projects potentially falling around the same time as culminating events like the Harrison Symposium, poster sessions in the sciences, and final art and music presentations.
In general, the Senior Experience is intended to serve both as a conclusion and as a preparation for things to come.
“It is meant to bring together everything that’s happened in a student’s education and give them perspective on the future,” Burrows said.
Associate Professor of English Tim Spurgin shared Burrows’ views on the importance of both culmination and preparation, and will offer both opportunities to next year’s seniors in a course entitled “Senior Studies.”
While this course is very different from the proposed Senior Experience in that it is not mandatory and involves only the time commitment of a standard six-unit class, it is also meant as a reflective experience for seniors.
“Senior Studies is not tied to any major,” Spurgin explained. “It is an opportunity for people to revisit texts they read in Freshman Studies if they want.”
Students in Senior Studies will read works comprised of selections from their Freshman Studies curriculum, some chosen by the students and others by the instructor.
Students will also have an opportunity to suggest works for the reading list that they found especially interesting or significant to their time at Lawrence.
Although they are two different things, both the proposed Senior Experience and next year’s Senior Studies course will allow students to analyze what they have learned and gained at Lawrence.
In addition, both programs will help prepare students for lives of exploring individual interests and making independent choices – which will serve them well as they enter into a different world after graduation.