Former Visiting Assistant Professor of English Andrew Klein – This year’s Wabash Liberal Arts Immersion Program has come to a close, and I’m humbled by the dedication and enthusiasm with which these 23 young men have met the challenges of the past month.
The program left a particularly strong impression on me this year as it was both the first time I’ve worked with students in the program and the last time I will teach here at Wabash.
I’m told students tend to approach this program with trepidation and, in some cases, outright resistance to the idea of losing their last summer at home with friends and family. So, it was gratifying to hear so many them write of the reversal of those sentiments over the course of the month upon discovering deep friendships, confident mentors, and a wellspring of intellect and academic potential within themselves. I was proud to hear my students, who only a month earlier had been dancing at their high school prom, embracing the critical self-awareness needed for them to seize their college education and to get the most out of the next four years.
Dr. Crystal Benedicks and I were responsible for the English 101 course. From July 1 to July 26, we guided our students through spirited discussion and an intensive reading and writing schedule. We asked our students to assess honestly their prior relationship with reading and writing, to examine critically the educational models they had known since kindergarten, and to explore their own personal credo or guiding question as they moved forward into a new semester and a new life.
This process of meditating on their past, present, and future gave these students what so many of us need but fail to find before committing to our next Big Thing: time to reflect.
Hearing the students encapsulate this reflective process in their final audio essays taught me the value of encouraging students to locate themselves within their studies. They described how this experience had taught them that their success going forward would hinge not on departure from their past – a past often painted with the vivid colors of their home and family life – but on embracing and uniting their new ventures with their old traditions.
Listening to these students’ final words, recorded just a day before the program ended, I was struck by how quickly their morphed into certainty. That, here at Wabash, they will take control of their lives and achieve their dreams. One student spoke of his eagerness to develop freely his ideas in dialogue with caring teachers. Another wrote of how he could pursue his education without the shame he’d felt initially about expressing himself and his ideas. All of the students found some reason to be hopeful and confident where before they had been skeptical and unsure.
If we are able to move students to feel this way before their first semester has even begun, then I consider what we’ve all accomplished this summer a job well done.
And I do mean “all” — the WLAIP works well not only thanks to the enthusiasm of its professors and students to work together but also to the guidance of others. Dr. Robert Horton, Dr. Zachery Koppelman, and other faculty were a constant, supportive presence, and together we created a productive environment that was intense for the students but not overwhelming. However, it was the student mentors and writing tutors who were exceptionally vital to this course. I saw not only our new students improve and grow, but I saw more senior students rise to the occasion and readily adopt roles of leadership and mentorship.
I left the course changed myself —invigorated by what I had learned from these students and how we as instructors can offer guidance, newly aware of how important a student’s background can be to how we approach our courses, and, what’s more, looking forward to how I might take this experience and pay it forward at my next position at a liberal arts college in Canada.
WLAIP is a powerful reminder of the effectiveness of the intensive, student-centered education for which Wabash is best known. And those who come through it ought to be particularly proud of their achievement.
So congratulations to Cristian, Luis, Jorge, Clarke, Emiliano, Jayden, Davionne, Ali, Johnny, Sammy, Jose, Marco, Gianni, Jonathan, Eddie, Gerald, Chris, Mike, Jesus, Walter, Leo, Elijah, and Eli. You have much to be proud of this summer, and Wabash gains so much by having you here. Congrats as well to Anthony, Leon, Ra’Shawn, Corey, John, and Kike — mentors and tutors whom Wabash is also lucky to have.
Here’s to next year’s WLAIP!