Travel-Learning Spring Courses Blend Theory-Practice and Travel Experiences

A new off-campus course dimension heightens learning

This spring semester, economics professor Bob Gitter will take several Ohio Wesleyan students enrolled in his “Mexican Migration Experience” Travel-Learning class to Mexico during spring break, to stay with families there and gain an understanding of their lives. Gitter’s is one of six OWU spring semester courses that is part of the carefully designed Travel-Learning courses approved recently by the University’s Academic Policy Committee.

Following the fall semester’s full palette of speakers who are engaging students and the rest of the Ohio Wesleyan community to think about the Colloquium theme, “Renewing America for a Global Century: From Theory to Practice at Ohio Wesleyan University,” the spring courses have been created as interactive learning opportunities to put theoretical learning into practice.

“Six OWU faculty members having expertise in four major divisions of our liberal arts curriculum, will teach these courses, all of which have substantial interactive as well as off campus experiences and which focus in science, social sciences, humanities-classics, the arts and an interdisciplinary area,” says Sean Kay, professor of politics and government and international studies coordinator—and coordinator of this year’s Sagan National Colloquium. Those professors, who along with Gitter, will be teaching this year’s Travel-Learning courses are:

Richelle Schrock, (Women’s and Gender Studies)
“Gender and the Immigrant Experience,” will examine how women are uniquely positioned as migrants in the global economy. Students enrolled in this course will help to settle a Muslim refugee family in the Columbus area.

Michael Flamm, (History)
“The Vietnam Experience,” introduces students to the history, culture, and politics of Vietnam, emphasizing the time period from 1940-1975. Completing requirements concurrently for History 160—“America in the Sixties”—students will travel to Vietnam in May.

Ed Kahn, (Theatre and Dance)
“Political/Social Cabaret,” will draw students from across academic disciplines to study the literature, history, and practice of 20th-21st century political/social cabaret and agit-prop theatre and explore writing and performing in their own contemporary political and social material. Putting their knowledge into practice with a series of public performances will be the culmination of this Travel-Learning course.

Robert Harmon, (Physics and Astronomy)
“International Competition and Cooperation in the Exploration of Space,” will trace the development of space exploration by all participating nations while focusing on exploring possibilities that the future holds for our global society. Considering that a manned mission to Mars may well occur in the coming decades, observers believe that this sort of international venture will promote international harmony and global understanding.

Chris Wolverton, (Botany-Microbiology)
“Biofuels,” will focus on biofuel development from the molecular and cell biological levels to discussions about the manufacturing and engineering challenges associated with biofuel production and distribution systems. Classroom discussions will involve current research programs aimed at genetically modifying biochemical pathways to maximize biofuel production in various organisms. Students also will travel to a biofuels research laboratory facility.

Bob Gitter, (Economics)
“The Mexican Migration Experience,” will involve detailed study of Mexican migration to the U.S. Topics to be studied: the impact of immigration on labor markets in the United States and Mexico; the migration experience; the history of migration and social impact, politics, and proposed legal reforms. Students will travel to Mexico City and a rural site in Puebla, Hidalgo, or Tlaxcala, Mexico, and will meet with town leaders, stay with host families, and attend lectures, tours, and other meetings.

In preparation for their trip to Mexico, Gitter and his students will read about and discuss migration law and the impact on migrants and on native-born Americans, also looking at Mexico’s cultural, historical, and political aspects.

“While we are in Mexico, we’ll meet as a group daily to help students process what they are experiencing and to better understand the “push” factors that lead to migrations,” says Gitter. And when they return, his students will come together again as they present a major project or paper to the OWU community.

“I am most excited about the opportunity to dig in and understand the details behind some of the cutting-edge research targeted at developing commercially viable biofuels,” says Wolverton. “We will address the shortcomings of corn starch-based ethanol, but most of the semester, we will be learning about the next generation of biofuels, and even some that will come to market beyond the next generation.”

As Kay explains the Travel-Learning courses are semester long, with students paying basic fees such as airfare. There will be open enrollment for the classes, with permission from instructors needed, and required completion of application forms, similar to those associated with OWU’s off-campus programs. In addition, OWU will host an array of other Colloquium-related events and speakers during spring semester.

“What is most exciting is that students will have the opportunity to compare the ideas and conclusions they develop in the classroom with the experiences they will gain from traveling in Vietnam, seeing the sights, and meeting with those whose lives were directly affected by the war,” says Flamm.

Fieldwork also is an important factor in Richelle Schrock’s course.

“The most exciting component of my course on ‘Gender and the Immigrant Experience,’ is that students will combine their in-class learning with fieldwork in Columbus during which they will have the opportunity to build relationships with newly-arrived immigrants and refugees, and gain first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing these communities,” says Schrock.

“The Travel-Learning courses will offer exciting opportunities for our students to take an active role in addressing the significant challenges we face in the U.S. and the world,” says Kay, stressing the impact of the travel and off-campus opportunities for OWU students. “Special credit goes to Rock Jones, who is challenging us to create innovative and exciting programs for our students.”