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   from the issue of November 10, 2005

  Thompson Forum spawns new learning community

Gaining a global perspective


Two questions into a pre-Thompson Forum gathering with UNL students, Michael Walzer - a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. - couldn't help but be impressed.

THOMPSON ENCOUNTER - Michael Walzer answers a question as members of the E.N. Thompson International Scholars look on. The scholars are...
 THOMPSON ENCOUNTER - Michael Walzer answers a question as members of the E.N. Thompson International Scholars look on. The scholars are a new learning community at UNL this year. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.

"These are really difficult questions," Walzer said after being queried on theories on war and the justness of the United States' invasion of Iraq. "This is going to be a great discussion."

Many students attending Walzer's question and answer session Nov. 2 in the Van Brunt Visitors Center were members of the E.N. Thompson International Scholars, a new learning community focusing on history, international studies, political science and other disciplines in a global context.

The 18 first-year students were selected to take part in the E.N. Thompson scholars program by invitation based on their interest in world issues.

"My career goals are to be involved in international relations," said Aimee Schwab, a freshman from Crete and member of the E.N. Thompson scholars. "I felt like this was the perfect opportunity for me to get my feet wet. It will also help me get into the field after graduation."

The learning community draws on E.N. Thompson Forum presentations as a starting point. The goal is to develop a group of high-ability students who see themselves as global citizens, said Deb Mullen, academic learning community coordinator.

Most students live on eighth floor of Abel Hall, where fifth-year senior Camillo Ramirez mentors them.

"Students in the learning community care about the international community and want to become engaged in the world around them," Mullen said. "We hope students come to see themselves as global citizens."

Scholars participate in two honors courses, the E.N. Thompson lecture series, and the English Conversation Partner Program.

The honors courses are taught by Patrice McMahon, assistant professor in political science, and Patrice Berger, professor of history. McMahon's course focuses on international relations, while Berger's class explores political, social and economic issues throughout the world.

In the English Conversation partner Program, each student is assigned a language partner. These pairs spend time talking about issues ranging from current events to daily life of a college student. This activity helps students whose primary language is not English hone their skills while helping all learn about a different culture, Mullen said.

Thompson scholars are encouraged to take advantage of a movie series offered through the Office of Academic Support and Intercultural Services and the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.

Their education is also enhanced by new learning technologies. Each member of the community has received Apple iPods for downloading podcasts on topics related to their study. Students will also use the iPods to record interviews and share them with other class members.

On Oct. 25, the community also started a real-time educational exchange with students from Spain. At the beginning of the second semester - once students are more at home at UNL - they will perform some service learning projects as well.

Like Walzer, Elaine Pagels - the first Thompson lecturer who spoke on religious history, the Gnostic gospels and the secret gospel of Thomas - was also impressed by the Thompson scholars. Thomas said Pagels was "delighted" by the interaction with the students. To prepare for the discussion, Thompson scholars studied religious history to familiarize them with Pagels' topic, and then asked the lecturer for more.

"To sit down with these people we've heard so much about is overwhelming at first," Schwab said. "But, it's an amazing opportunity because each is a celebrity in a nerdy kind of way."

And, while the learning community members are taking a worldwide approach to their college experience, they are also benefiting by being a member of a small community of like-minded scholars.

"I would have to say that, being a member of the E.N. Thompson scholars has helped me transition to the university," said Noel Yuri-Bermudez of The Woodlands, Texas. "We're a good, tight-knit group.

"And, I think we're building the foundation of friendships and contacts that will carry beyond college and into our careers."



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