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New Honors College First Year Seminar: HCOL 095 "The Pursuit of Knowledge: Disciplines, Universities, and Engagement"
Interview with Joseph Acquisto, Professor of Romance Languages
Beginning with the fall 2008 semester, the Honors College will offer a new First Year Seminar for all incoming HCOL students. Titled "The Pursuit of Knowledge: Disciplines, Universities, and Engagement," the seminar will challenge students to think and reflect upon what it means to be a University student in the rapidly changing 21st century. The seminar course description and extensive reading list can be found on our web site: HC First Year Curriculum. The seminar is the brainchild of Joseph Acquisto, Professor of Romance Languages. We had a chance recently to sit down with him to talk about the genesis of the course, and what motivated him and the others involved in its design to want to offer a new first year seminar to replace the one that HCOL students have been taking since the college's inception.
Q. Could you tell us how the idea for the course developed?
A. Sure. When I first started thinking about the course, I thought about the kinds of things first-year students are likely to be thinking about as they begin their college education, so the course grew out of some very basic concerns about the nature and role of universities and about how knowledge is discovered or produced, both by individuals and institutions. Students in the course will have a large variety of academic interests, since they come from all of the colleges of the university, so I was seeking a subject that would be a common denominator for them.
Q. Did the idea for the course resonate in any way with your own personal experience?
A. I know that when I began college, I was also looking for mentors or role models, both in the professors I met and the books I read. So from the start I wanted to include a section on intellectual or creative autobiographies, where students would read about a variety of thinkers, writers, scientists, and creative artists describing their own intellectual and creative foundations and how they became interested in the work they went on to do.
Q. I see. Once you had the idea for the seminar, how did you nurture the course into existence?
A. The course grew and developed in a series of meetings with my colleagues who will be teaching sections of the course: Vicki Brennan, Hyon-Joo Murphree, Abu Rizvi, Lisa Schnell, and Robert Taylor. Together, we have created a course that will begin by looking at contemporary approaches to ways of knowing. From this abstract and conceptual beginning section, we will move on to looking at the various disciplines that comprise a university: humanities, social sciences, sciences, and the arts, and we will look at examples of how scholars representing each of these approaches do their work and produce knowledge and understanding.
Q. Will there be a change in the seminar's forcus in the spring semester?
A. For the second semester, rather than change the focus we will broaden it further by examining a series of texts about the nature of university education: what it has been, what it is, what it could or should be. Then, in the last weeks of the course, we will examine intellectual and creative autobiographies, alongside examples of the authors' work, in order to bring together the themes we have developed in the course and apply them to more personal contexts.
Q. And those themes are?
A. The course addresses some very basic questions: What do we study, how do we study, and why? And it will address those questions from a variety of personal and social and discipline-specific perspectives.
Q. And finally, what is your goal for the seminar? If there is one outsome you would like your students to gain from the course, what would it be?
A. I hope that what they learn in the course will be transferable to their later work in their discipline-specific courses. A core seminar can't give them the skills of their chosen majors, but it can allow them to ask fundamental questions about how various kinds of knowledge are produced in the university context and the ways in which they are applied in the world. It will give students a context in which to place their work in other courses.
Thank you Professor Acquisto for your time.
It has been my pleasure
Last modified June 20 2008 12:13 PM