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Posts with the tag: Professors

  1. 2016 Elton Lecture: Art and the Core Values

    April 19, 2016


    Every year, a Southern Virginia professor receives the Michael and Kay Elton Lectureship for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship, and every year the university has the privilege of hearing from the Elton Scholar. This semester, we heard from Barbara Crawford, professor of art.

    Professor Crawford came to Southern Virginia over 35 years ago. Throughout her time teaching here, she has become very well-acquainted with the university’s mission and core values. In her speech, she showed us how much we can learn of the core values through classic pieces of art.

    Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_editI found most touching her remarks on Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” She explained that “[the] artist has not focused on suffering and death, but the focus is on the serene expression on the face of Christ and a youthful Mary at peace” and examined the way the statue looks from an aerial view, pointing out the way the circling design unifies the mother and son from a Heavenly Father’s perspective.

    And though much more of consequence was said throughout her speech, as she considered each of the five core values (scholarship, discipleship, accountability, enthusiasm and refinement), it’s her comments on perspective and refinement that struck me most.

    “Don’t always look at things the same way,” she said. “Change your perspective. Look at things from a different point of view. Try someone else’s point of view, or refine your understanding of something by changing — refining  your point of view. Most often, students think refinement is going to a concert or a museum. It’s not the going to the concert or the museum that is refinement, but the results, the change that takes place in us because of that experience that is at the heart of understanding refinement. We can come away with a deeper understanding of ourselves and of our world.”

    (Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Sarah Foster ’19 and Stanislav Traykov. Video by Rex Winslow ’16.)

  2. 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.)

  3. ‘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.)

  4. Professors Monthly: Christmas Edition

    December 22, 2015

    cookies-christmas-xmas-bakingProfessors Monthly is a new monthly column on the official Southern Virginia University blog. Each month’s guest post will be provided by a Southern Virginia professor on a topic of their choice. This month, instead of the usual routine, we’ve asked a handful of them to share a Christmas memory or tradition. 

    Matthew Georgeson, assistant professor of theatre:

    Every evening in December, we read verses that tell the story of Christ starting with prophecies of Him in the Old Testament. We then read of His birth, ministry and Atonement. With each short verse, we have a picture and tell the simple story. My favorite is the one that we read on Christmas morning before we open presents. We read D&C 76:22-24 and each share our testimonies of Christ and tell that even though we have some nice presents, the best gift was from Heavenly Father and Jesus. They gave us the chance to live happy together forever with Them. It has been a wonderful way to start the day.

    Richard Gardner, associate professor of biology:

    Every Christmas Eve as I was growing up, my dad used to read us “Mrs. Goose’s Wild Christmas,” but we knew it better as “Three Ducks.” It is a silly kids story about tame goose and her wild cousin and their Christmas. On my mission, I got a package before Christmas, including an audio tape, and I put it in our tape player, and I was surprised to hear my dad reading “Three Ducks.” I had to explain the tradition to my companion. My father-in-law used to read my wife and her siblings “Wee Woofsky,” another animal Christmas story (about a baby bear that gets lost, but Santa brings him back to his parents on Christmas). Now, each Christmas Eve, I read “Three Ducks” to our kids, and my wife reads “Wee Woofsky” to them (along with Luke 2). We’ll be sending our missionary son emailed MP3s of us reading these stories.

    Jane Harrington, adjunct instructor of English:

    My family honors Jewish and Christian traditions, so our winter holiday is especially rich. Now that we have to travel far distances to get together, we focus more on food than gift-giving. Freshly baked breads and latkes are longtime favorites, but as we’ll be in Louisiana this year, there will surely be some jambalaya on the table. Can’t wait!

  5. Professors Monthly: Iana Konstantinova

    October 30, 2015

    KonstantinovaProfessors Monthly is a new monthly column on the official Southern Virginia University blog. Each month’s guest post will be provided by a Southern Virginia professor on a topic of their choice. This month, Dr. Iana Konstantinova, associate professor of Spanish, considers the important relationship between reader and literature.

    Last Monday, my daughter and I went to see “Goosebumps.” The literature professor in me could not watch a kids’ movie without making connections to literary works that deal with the metafictional themes of authorship and the notion of reality vs. fiction.  In the movie, the author of the original “Goosebumps” series, R.L. Stine, is represented as a fictional character, whose creations come to life and attempt to kill him in order to assure their existence in “reality,” outside of the books where they have been “imprisoned.”

    My mind immediately wandered to Miguel de Unamuno’s “Niebla,” where the protagonist, Augusto Pérez, visits Unamuno in his office and explains to the author that he is less real than his own creation, pointing to a painting of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.  Augusto Pérez goes on to tell Unamuno that Cervantes may be dead, but Don Quixote and Sancho continue their existence because people read their story.  Likewise, Augusto Pérez explains that he will continue to exist long after Unamuno’s death.  The character’s claims that a fictional character is ontologically more “real” than the flesh and blood author that created him may seem far-fetched to those who, unlike me, do not find such metafictional paradoxes fascinating.  Nevertheless, I do believe Unamuno has a point.  It is neither the author nor the character that creates a novel’s “reality,” but the reader who brings his or her own experiences and further breathes life into the text.

    Without readers, authors would be dead and forgotten, and characters would be nothing more than words on a page (or images on a film screen).  It is our perception of the material that gives “life” to the characters and immortalizes the authors by way of their creations.  Therefore, read and know that through reading you give life to the text, its author and its characters and they, in turn, influence you and your own reality.  Do be careful, however, that you do not turn into a Don Quijote and allow madness to overtake you as a result of too much reading and not enough sleep.


    (Post by Dr. Iana Konstantinova. Photo by Jordan Wunderlich ’15.)