The Blog @
Southern Virginia University

Posts with the tag: Academics

  1. Learning to Learn

    April 18, 2016

    Last semester I took Contemporary Issues, a course required of all Southern Virginia students in order to graduate. This course requires application of the reading and critical thinking skills acquired through liberal arts education to the events and controversies of today. Several professors teach it, each in their own way. For Professor Jeff Benedict’s section, we were required to keep up to date with the top stories in the New York Times, which we discussed in class. We learned about eminent domain and our legal system by reading Benedict’s “Little Pink House,” and “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football” turned out to be full of both glory and scandal. It sparked discussions about the culture of celebrity student-athletes, dropped into fame, and the personal costs and privileges that they and their entourage experience. I’ve never been one to join my family around the TV, riveted to the start and stop of football plays, but I was riveted to this book. We also compared and contrasted the lives and values of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin, drawing from their biographies written by Walter Isaacson and searching for what spurred them to greatness. Then, at the end of the semester, we read a fictional work. To top this all off with a work of fiction seems rather anachronistic, but it turned out to be perhaps the most relevant reading of the semester. We read “Go Set a Watchman,” the last published work of Harper Lee, who passed away last February.


    Students across the country read “To Kill a Mockingbird” as part of our primary education. We fall in love with the exemplary (albeit fictional) human being, Atticus Finch. We, like his daughter Scout, put him on a pedestal in our minds. This is why the publication of Lee’s sequel stirred such controversy. The readers learn, along with Scout, now a young adult who goes by Jean Louise, that Atticus is racist. Amidst the grief and anger of this discovery, Jean Louise berates her father and resolves to leave her hometown, a place where she feels she no longer fits in, behind. Her eclectic Uncle Jack intervenes. He convinces Jean Louise to slow down, to talk, and to think about herself. He tells her that she is “A bigot. Not a big one, just an ordinary turnip-sized bigot.” Lee then defines a bigot as “One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion.” Uncle Jack forced our entire Contemporary Issues class to do a self-evaluation.

    How do we react when faced with belief systems that contradict our own? Do offensive ideas disappear with deleted friendships from our Facebook feeds? Do we give others “elbow room in [our] mind[s] for their ideas, no matter how silly [we] think they are”? According to Uncle Jack, those are the fruits of bigotry. Interestingly, this measure of bigotry is not determined by how tolerant we deem ourselves to be, but rather by how others perceive us. Only those expressing opinions which depart from our own can tell us whether we come off as obstinate or intolerable. The only way to know how you’re doing would be to seek out and listen to feedback.

    Of course, Lee’s interpretation of bigotry is just one of many, and obviously one that made me think. Harper Lee tells us that differences are to be celebrated, explored or tolerated; not shut out. One may certainly disagree with her. Perhaps ideas or beliefs exist which ought not be tolerated. The passivity of a population in the wake of a wrong may only perpetuate it. On the other hand, tolerance does not denote silence, but civility. President Obama expressed a similar view when he spoke at a town hall meeting last September:

    “I’ve got to tell you, I don’t agree with that either — that you when you become students at colleges, you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.”

    And that brings us back to the course, Contemporary Issues, where we study current controversies and important events, develop informed opinions, and leave the classroom equipped to continually shape and refine those opinions. We learn to ensure that our learning never stops.

    (Post by Lauren Hafen ’16.)

  2. ‘Specialization is for Insects’: The Purpose of Education

    April 6, 2016

    Music-bRobert A. Heinlein, an influential and popular science fiction writer, once wrote, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” I’m going to take some creative license and add one thing to this list: A human being should be able to identify a German augmented sixth chord in a musical score.

    Whitehead-class-bFortunately for me, an English major, I took Professor Launa Whitehead’s notoriously difficult Music History course this semester, and can now cross this off. In fact, Professor Whitehead’s course has taught me to do many things that I can now add to — and cross off of — my version of Heinlein’s list. This course, though the most challenging one of my entire college career, has been invaluable in stretching my capabilities as a student and as a human being. It has also prompted some serious reflection on my part on the purpose of education and how that education influences life.

    The world is an easy place to become one-sided, static and stagnant. From an impossibly young age, most of us are expected to choose what we want to do or to be when we reach adulthood; and then we are forced to spend our education in pursuit of that choice — and in the meantime we paint ourselves into corners in the hopes that one day those corners will turn into tidy professions with decent salaries and a nice level of stability.

    But here at Southern Virginia University, we have a different method. We use education to expand our opportunities, not diminish them. Our curriculum encourages business students to study astronomy. It motivates philosophy majors to learn computer programming. It gives English majors the opportunity to know how to analyze some of music’s greatest compositions. Instead of painting ourselves into corners, we’re knocking down walls.

    One day when we all graduate, we will, unavoidably, enter some kind of profession. But thanks to Southern Virginia, we will do so with the kind of intellectual freedom that changes the world, rather than allowing it to continue on in the same way as before. We will know how to think creatively, how to think energetically, how to think differently.

    How to think less like an insect and more like a human being.

    (Post by Braxton Boyer ’16. Photos by Russ Dixon.)

  3. Photos: Travel Study in Paris

    March 31, 2016

    If you graduate from Southern Virginia University without taking advantage of Travel Study, you’ve really missed out. I know because that’s exactly what I did. When I graduated, I realized that between all of my classes and all the extracurricular activities I was involved in, I had never gotten around to signing up for a Travel Study trip.

    But, fortunately, education isn’t something that ends when you’re handed a diploma. Last year, I heard that Professor Doug Himes was taking a group of students on a Travel Study trip to Paris for spring break. I realized that this was my chance to finally make up for what I’d missed as a student and I jumped at the opportunity.

    It was incredible! Paris is simply one of the most beautiful places in the world. The cathedrals are beautiful. The museums are beautiful. The gardens are beautiful. The monuments are beautiful. The metro is — well, the metro is just as ugly and smelly as anywhere. But that was alright because I preferred to walk the beautiful Parisian streets anyway.

    There’s something irreplaceable about travel. It’s almost as if every city sang a song, made up of the millions of voices of its citizens and shaped by centuries of history, art and architecture. You can study a symphony until you know everything there is to know about it, but if you’ve never actually heard it, you really don’t know anything about it at all. Likewise, even if you know a lot about a destination, you can’t know the place until you’ve been there and really heard its song.

    For example, one evening in Paris a friend and I wandered into a small church (only in Paris does it make sense to describe a gothic cathedral as small). The nave was almost entirely empty. We sat quietly in that cathedral as the shadows cast through the stained glass slowly took over the space. Since getting back, I’ve looked up the Church of Saint-Séverin on Wikipedia and I’ve learned things about it that I didn’t find out when I was there. But the online account is missing something: the echoing sound of silence and the setting sun over an old church in Paris.

    The point is that while you’re at Southern Virginia, be sure to travel. The Travel Study program makes it easier than it will probably ever be again. It will enrich your education and your life. Visit for information on upcoming trips and instructions on how to sign up.

    (Post by Alec Johnson ’14. Photos by Bronwyn Himes ’17.)

  4. Art Exhibit: Cameron Burgoyne (’15)

    March 22, 2016

    In my experience, every student who comes through Southern Virginia University inevitably ends up with favorite places on campus. Places that hold special memories. Places they find particularly beautiful. Whether it’s the bench beneath the weeping willow in bloom with hundreds of pink blossoms or the front porch of Main Hall, our campus is filled to the brim with beautiful, special places that will remain in our hearts and our memories for years to come.

    One such place is the Corridor Gallery. Located in between Main Hall and Chandler Hall, this hallway’s walls are always lined with new, different and beautiful works of art. Throughout the semester, the art program displays works of art painted by our students and alumni as well as by visiting artists. I really appreciate what the faculty and students in the art program are doing to beautify and culture our campus through art.

    Currently, the Corridor Gallery is displaying a series of woodblock prints by Cameron Burgoyne, who graduated with a double major in art and liberal arts last year. Cameron is a talented artist who currently works as a graphic designer in the Office of Communications and team-teaches a class on the Adobe Creative Suite. He introduced the exhibit with an opening lecture in the Ballroom. His artistic influences include Paul Klee and Josef Albers.

    “I really feel like a lot of art, especially LDS art, is so much more literal and pictorial than is necessary to convey an idea,” he said. “So in my art, I’m trying to find the simplest way to convey an idea. A lot of what is in me is religious, so that’s what tends to be reflected in my artwork. I find it interesting that Christ didn’t teach very literally, but instead taught in parables and stories.”

    If you haven’t had a chance to see Cameron’s artwork yet, be sure to stop by the Corridor Gallery and check out his exhibit soon! To view more of his artwork, visit his personal website.

    (Post by Hannah King ’13. Photos by Matt Anderson ’17.)

  5. Q&A: Erik Flores, VP of Academics and Service

    March 18, 2016

    ErikFlores main

    In the past week you may have noticed that campaigning for next year’s Student Association positions has begun. As you consider which candidate will get your vote, we’re continuing to interview this year’s members of the Executive Council to better understand the responsibilities each position entails. Erik Flores, vice president of academics and service, had a lot to say about his experience serving the Southern Virginia community.

     Q: What are your responsibilities on the Executive Council?

     Erik: I am the Vice President of Academics and Service … [I] plan and carry out various service projects both on and off campus. … It’s the really fun portion of the job. And the school has done a pretty good job of being known in the community for being leader-servants, so many of the jobs get sent our way. For the academic portion, one of the main functions is the faculty appreciation dinner. Some of our goals early on in the year were to promote the historical societies and to work with alumni to help our students receive jobs. … In this position it can become very easy for service to become the priority just because there’s so much more demand for the service to be accomplished. … The increase in service through athletics has also helped mediate the burden between just the service council to more broadly include the student community. Men’s lacrosse made a commitment to find someone to serve every Saturday, and the team has done a fantastic job of making sure that vision has come to pass. So I think [Southern Virginia Athletics] has done a tremendous job in making sure community service needs have been attended to.

     Q: Why did you choose to run for Executive Council?

    Erik: I’m a first generation college student, and I’ve had a lot of gratitude to [Southern Virginia]. … I’ve been able to participate in the Fading Point, which [worked] very closely with the admissions department to directly help people come to know more about Southern Virginia. … And I saw the EC role as an opportunity to more directly affect the affairs of the school and just make it run well. I have a great love for this institution and I wanted to make sure that a candidate with that love was part of the EC. [My second year at Southern Virginia] I was able to serve as the service senator, which helped me to work really closely with Dan Cline, who was the VP of Academics and Service that year. … I loved what he was able to do and how he was able to contribute [by] planning projects that helped not just our school but also the community. [I wanted to help] the school that I love and the community that I love [by] bridging gaps through service so that the [Buena Vista] and Lexington community could know who we are.

    Q: How was your campaigning experience?

    Erik: [It was] difficult just because I had never done anything of the sort before. I was really surprised and grateful for people that … were willing to help in the creation of posters and various campaign paraphernalia. Very creative people came to me and said, “Erik, I want to help,” and helped make posters and just generally spread the word. … I realized it wasn’t just my burden; there were people who believed in me and what I wanted to do for the school and would help me accomplish it.

    Q: What has been the best part of being on the EC?

    Erik: Being able to see the growth of the next generation of [Southern Virginia] leaders. … I was able to meet a lot of students that have that enthusiasm and love for this campus … and hopefully to give them knowledge so that they can have an impact on this school. It will take a lot of time and work, but they can do it, and hopefully I’ve been a mentor to students to help them know that they can implement change. … Just to get to know them has been the greatest part of this role.

    Q: What kind of student would be a good fit for your position?

    Erik: A go-getter. Someone [who is] not looking for a resume booster, [but] someone that genuinely cares. … A genuine person that loves this school and is willing to work through red tape and policies and procedures to get the job done. … I want people to know that if you want to get it right it takes time [and] it takes heart.

    Q: Why should other students run?

    Erik: There’s a lot that needs to get done and there’s a lot of responsibilities that this role has, and it would be a tremendous burden on the school if this position wasn’t a thing. … The quote that hangs outside the business office [says that] in the world you get paid in two ways: you get paid in money and in experience. In this role you will get paid in experience. If that’s what you’re looking for, this role is a great opportunity to get hands-on experience, … to know how to work with people, [learn] to work with people that disagree with your opinion, and know how to disagree agreeably. … if you’re looking for stuff like that, this is great for that.

    Q: Anything else you want to add?

    Erik: I wish I could have done more, but I was grateful that I was able to … see that there are students on the campus that are super talented and super go-getters! I got to meet a freshman that came in this year that has incredible artistic ability and a really kind heart and she saw a need in the community that she and her roommate and these students could address. … And she doesn’t have a responsibility, per se, but she’s a go getter — she’s that motivational elite student that President Wilcox talks about. [Executive Council is] not mysterious, there’s not a hidden agenda … the things we talk about are just the needs of the students and how we think we can best fulfill them.

    Q: Are you glad you did it?

    Erik: I’m so glad I did it. … [I learned] that it takes guts to get good stuff going. Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean the road to accomplish it is going to be easy. It’s a laboratory to learn that good initiatives take time. I wouldn’t have learned that so deeply if it weren’t for this opportunity in student government.

    (Post by Lauren Hafen ’16.)