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Visionary Programs
By Macreena A. Doyle

Bold steps into academic areas no one else was exploring—these programs have become part of the landscape of St. Lawrence and they’re the result of faculty vision.

One of the components of the First-Year Program course Our Communities, Ourselves: A Community-Based Learning Experience required students to spend time volunteering in the local community. Kaitlynn Reyell ’09, a third-generation Laurentian from Saranac Lake, N.Y., left, made weekly visits to the Canton unit of St. Lawrence NYSARC (described on its own Web site as “an organization serving individuals with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities, and their families”). She led numerous activities involving music; here, she and Ron Middlemiss are learning the names of the keys on her keyboard.

The First-Year Program
The “FYP” has become a model for introducing new students to the academic experience of the liberal arts. It was cited by the Carnegie Foundation for Excellence in Teaching as “one of the most well-defined and creative in the country.”

That design involves four components: students in each "college" live together; they take a team-taught, interdisciplinary course; they are assisted in developing written and oral communication skills, plus research skills; and they are advised by program faculty.

Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs Grant Cornwell ’79 says the FYP “was intended to provide a holistic educational experience for first-year students. Many other colleges have based their first-year programs on ours. All marvel at the ambition of our program, and admire the institutional commitment it represents. The program has always been a laboratory for innovative pedagogy.” Associate Dean of the First Year and Professor of Economics Steven Horwitz explains, “Every faculty member has to teach writing, research and oral presentation. That has fundamentally changed teaching at the University.”

Mallory Mumford ’06, of Lowville, N.Y., puts it this way: “The FYP is the social and educational foundation for the St. Lawrence experience.”

St. Lawrence is the closest American liberal arts college to a foreign capital – Ottawa, a little over an hour from campus.

Canadian Studies
St. Lawrence has recognized the benefits of its proximity to a foreign nation for years. Since the 1970s, the University has had a Canadian studies program that is renowned.

The program is interdepartmental, with some courses taught by faculty in the Canadian studies department, others by faculty in anthropology, economics, English, environmental studies, fine arts, global studies, government, history, modern languages and literatures (French), and sociology.

Professor of Canadian Studies Joseph T. Jockel ’74, explains, “We made the decision to capitalize on our location. Our curriculum allows students to go far beyond the introductory course – a version of which many schools offer – if they have the interest. And many do.”

Jockel also notes another, perhaps less obvious, attribute of the program: “It is truly part of the liberal arts tradition, which is the University's tradition. By studying another country, students also reflect on their own country. They must look at American society, politics, environment, culture and so on.”

What’s distinctive about St. Lawrence’s environmental studies program is its equal attention to the physical and social sciences. The Catalog description for the course Sustainable Agriculture Systems says it draws on “perspectives of agricultural scientists, ecologists, economists, sociologists and philosophers.”

Environmental Studies
Established in 1973, environmental studies was the University's first interdisciplinary program. About then, interest in the environment entered the mainstream, and many colleges added programs. Most were based in the sciences.

“From the start, we had a different concept of the curriculum for environmental studies that went beyond what most places simply saw as ‘ecology,’” says Professor of Environmental Studies Glenn Harris. “We moved into the humanities well before colleagues at other institutions, for example. Our original five combined majors show how we were thinking about this – geology, biology, sociology, economics and government. We later added anthropology, philosophy, chemistry, English and psychology, and ultimately the stand-alone major.”

Harris says, “Our location gives us a great opportunity for community involvement, and our students have undertaken wonderful projects that have really helped some local towns and villages. Many officials have told me that without some of the work done by our faculty and students, they would never have been able to have gotten grants or accomplished projects.”

For most students, it’s a rare treat to have class outdoors; for Adirondack Semester students, it’s unusual to have class indoors.

The Adirondack Semester
Another feature of the University’s location, its proximity to the Adirondack Park, provided the catalyst for the Adirondack Semester, available since 2000. Following the model of study in another culture, the program offers students the opportunity to immerse themselves full-time in the natural world. Each fall, about a dozen students live together in a remote portion of the park, taking four courses taught on-site and going without cars, television, Internet, alcohol and other accoutrements of contemporary college life. They also learn outdoor skills such as rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing and backcountry navigation, and guest artists perform, to enrich understanding of Adirondack culture. Excursions are also part of the program, culminating in a two-week field trip to a distinctly different type of ecosystem.

Professor of Philosophy Baylor Johnson, director and one of the program’s founders, says, "What makes the Adirondack Semester distinctive is the combination of academic study fleshed out by experiential learning. The students live close to nature, without the distractions of the modern world, while studying natural and human history, learning about contemporary environmental problems and their solutions, and expressing what they are experiencing through writing and art.”

Asked what makes the program special, Louise Gava ’07, of Clifton Park, N.Y., replies, “Living between civilization and wilderness allows for transformation and growth. A perfect semester? Far from it. Rather, a perfect decision I will be thankful I made for the rest of my life.”

Kenya Program

While not the first St. Lawrence program of study abroad, the Kenya semester has become well-known and extraordinarily popular, as well as being lauded for its academic quality. Established in 1974, it was the first by an American college to have its own study base in Kenya. In 2006, the program expands with a Kenya Summerterm.

Headquarters is in Nairobi, but students spend significant time in the field, including homestays and two field trips, one emphasizing culture and development, the other the environment, rangeland ecology and wildlife conservation. Students also have a three-week homestay with a family in urban Nairobi, and an internship. The academic program includes two required courses and two electives; study of Kiswahili, the national language of Kenya, is also required.

Professor of Anthropology Alice Pomponio, who has directed the Kenya program, states, “The rural homestay--a week with a family--is frequently the first time that our students have been a minority. They are often absolutely overwhelmed by the genuine hospitality shown to them.”

The academic experience also makes the program stand out, she says. “Students engage in independent study, which is not always part of study-abroad experiences, and the academic expectations are very high – there is total language immersion, which doesn’t necessarily happen in programs based in Africa,” says Pomponio.

Laura Dix ’06, of West Windsor, N.J.,observes. “The semester I spent in Kenya provided life experiences a classroom could never have given me. I not only learned how to milk a goat and dig up a sweet potato; I learned about myself.”

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