From its inception, the First Year Experience (FYE) has been rooted in the understanding that undergraduate excellence and retention is built on the grounds of both academic success and connection to community. As a result, FYE instructors face the challenge (and joy) of balancing content and relationship-development in every lesson and assignment. For example, today we celebrated a community member’s birthday with a card and singing before jumping into a guest lecture by the wonderful Dr. John Volin, UConn Professor and Head of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. While these moments may seem just for fun, they are actually vital to building a sense of belonging and trust that facilitates deeper engagement with difficult debates and reflection on their learning and growth, both in and out of the classroom.
For our first Student Guest Blog for the semester, I am glad to share with you a student’s thoughts on this balance as they experienced it last week and how it fosters academic engagement in our classroom and positively contributes to their educational journey.
Author: Corbinian Wanner
Shared with permission
It’s hard to find an example of where you are sitting in a college-setting classroom and you experience the genuine urge of laughing. Yes of course there are a multitude of cases where perhaps the professor has difficulty with technology or says something quirky, which generates a general consensus that a forced laugh is the only thing that will continue the classroom flow; we all have had these moments. However, can you generally say that you have had a visceral, natural laughing experience in a college classroom?
Charlie Chaplin once said that “a day without laughter is a day wasted.” So why don’t we laugh more? Truthfully there might be a lot of reasons out there, however, the biggest reason is the lack of a comfortable setting. I don’t know anyone who would feel comfortable in a large lecture hall with rigid chairs, no leg room, and hearing one voice talk the entire time, this environment is exactly what hinders our ability to laugh naturally.
Well, I’m going to share a little secret, I have indeed found natural laughter; specifically I found it on Thursday February 12, 2015. The UCONN-Reads UNIV 1820 course truly tapped into that reservoir where so much built up laughter could be found. This course creates a comfortable environment both physically (I’m referring to the every-so-comfortable chairs that litter ROWE 134) and mentally because of the discussion nature of the class.
On this Thursday we began the class with a beautiful discussion about our favorite food stories. The discussion struck almost every emotion; the humorous stories of burnt hams and bread baking experiments, the impressive stories of eating contests, and the personal stories of missing holiday meals with family members and first experiences with food. There was laughter, there were silent moments of respect, and there were humorous side-bar comments that filled the room with the recipe for a perfect discussion.
Following the general group discussion, which really embodied a preschool-reminiscent, show-and-tell scene, the group split up and began analyzing the introduction and first chapter of Michael Pollan’s bestselling novel, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It was at this time where the power of laughter was seen as it carried us into intense conversations were the meaning of certain quotes was discussed and what Pollan was trying to say in this unique introduction. These conversations brought us to the end of our allotted time break and following some brief reminders, the group of young adults dispersed across campus; hopefully getting through the day riding the laughter that they just experienced.