Fall Course Previews: Senior Seminar

We’re only about ten days away from the start of classes at Bethel University, which means that our faculty are starting to turn from their summer activities to planning courses and writing syllabi. We thought we’d give you a preview of what our professors have in store for some Fall 2012 courses. We’ll start with our capstone course, taught in the fall by AnneMarie Kooistra.

Course

HIS499 Senior Seminar

What are some of the major objectives of this course?

In this course, students have the opportunity to show off many of the skills they have acquired as history majors by writing a big, formal research paper and presenting it to faculty, colleagues, and friends. Some of those skills include identifying and participating in the conversation that historians have had about a chosen topic, locating and reading through historical evidence relevant to a chosen topic, and stitching it altogether in a thoughtful and well-written paper and eloquent presentation. Because each student chooses her own topic, the whole class learns from each other about sometimes surprising and wide-ranging slices of history.

How many years have you taught it?

It looks like this fall with be my sixth time teaching this course.

What do you most enjoy about teaching it? Why do you think it’s an especially significant course for Bethel to offer?

I enjoy working closely with students.  Many weeks, I meet individually with the student, and these meetings really help me to understand the student’s project — what topic might be best for him, what secondary and primary sources are the best fit, and how best to articulate what it is the student has learned from his reading and research. Of course, over the semester, I also have the benefit of getting to know the student, too, and these relationships are such a pleasure.

It’s good for Bethel to offer this kind of course for many reasons. Many Christians view their work as a kind of calling, and while undergraduates might equate their post-undergraduate career with “calling” or “vocation,” that kind of thinking is missing the boat. Undergraduate academic work, to my mind, is a calling.  As such, students should view it as a holy opportunity to use the faculties and gifts God has given them, including that of the mind. In Senior Seminar, students have a chance to give others a taste of the fruit that they have been cultivating as part of their calling — to say nothing of the fact that the kinds of skills students are asked to demonstrate in this course are the same ones they will use in their next calling, and to say nothing of the fact that the development of the mind in Christian community might help to dispel the seemingly widespread myth in the greater culture that Christians are not thinking people.

What do students seem to enjoy most about it?

Students love the freedom to research a topic of true interest to themselves.  Students like the challenge of working hard on a project, and be accountable to their larger community for it.  Students find immense satisfaction in producing a project that they can take pride in (regardless of the grade I assign), knowing that they worked hard and did their best.

Do you plan any significant changes to the course this time through?

I wouldn’t say I’m planning major changes for the course this fall, although I do hope to provide more resources for some of the steps in working on the research project: more tips for how to select a good topic, better resources for how to find appropriate secondary sources, more information regarding collections of primary sources in the Twin Cities.

If students take away only one thing from the course, what would you like it to be?

Sometimes students don’t realize how much they are capable of and how much they accomplish. In the every day hum drum of life, it is easy to forget that as Christians, we believe we are created in the image of God. Christians often take the notion of “imago dei” for granted — not stopping to pause on just how extraordinary and radical such a belief is. Senior Seminar can sometimes remind students just how extraordinary they are.

AnneMarie also passed along two quotations she often places at the top of her syllabi.

“There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)
“You have your work. It will be more meaningful for you, whatever it may be, if you take all the opportunities it affords to serve and give joy to others; if you reverence the things you work with and are conscious that your working with them gives them an opportunity to express themselves at a higher level through your activity and love; if you share some of the fruit of your labor with those less fortunate; if you do all for the love and glory of the heavenly Father, knowing then that your work is part of the transformation of the whole creation, including especially yourself.” (M. Basin Pennington, A Place Apart)
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