Coursework: Life of the Mind

by Cassandra Sproles November 15, 2014

Assignment: Life of the Mind

Focus: Students read an assigned book, submit a creative response, participate in a small-group discussion, and attend the Life of the Mind event in Thompson-Boling Arena. This is a component of First-Year Studies 100—a required course designed to help first-year students make a successful transition to college.

Taught by: More than 160 faculty and staff discussion leaders, coordinated by Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of First-Year Studies.

When: Welcome Week

DAYT_5_20This Year’s Selection: In line with the Life of the Mind theme of “creativity,” the 2014 selection was a Brazilian graphic narrative, Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, winner of the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series. It tells the story of a young man’s search for identity, purpose, happiness, and his own mark on the continuing narrative of his family, country, and culture.

Creativity as a Theme: “We recognize the importance of fostering creativity among all students, in all disciplines, as a necessary part of generating future leaders,” said Provost Susan Martin. “We have renowned artists and faculty from all over the world to guide new generations of writers, dancers, musicians, sculptors, filmmakers, designers, scientists, businesspeople, and other professionals.”

Goals:
• Engage first-year students in critical thinking through academic discourse
• Enable freshmen to share a common experience and bond with one another
• Initiate students into a community of civility, discussion, and respect
• Increase retention of first-year students from fall to spring and beyond

Homework: Students submit creative responses to the book, which the discussion leader reviews, marks, and often uses to spark thought and discourse in the larger group.

Discussion Strategies: In early August, discussion leaders take part in workshops to trade tips on helping freshmen talk about the book selection. Classrooms of some two dozen students are divided into smaller groups, so that each student’s voice is heard. The discussion leader poses questions or issues that flow naturally from the book. Many of these questions pertain to students’ lives.

Life of the Mind Event: After this year’s discussion groups, the entire entering class gathered in Thompson-Boling Arena for a program celebrating the book and its themes. The program consisted of a taped message from the author and illustrator; a conversation with Michael Hendrix, UT alumnus and IDEO think tank partner; and a culminating creative activity. This completes a freshman’s academic initiation as a Tennessee Volunteer, having read a thought-provoking work, provided a creative response, and discussed it among peers.

The Takeaway: “The Life of the Mind enables students to engage in academic discourse, maybe for the first time in their life,” says Mastrogiovanni. “Honing these skills will serve them well in their time at UT and for the rest of their lives.”

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