Wheaton magazine

Volume 19 // Issue 1
Wheaton magazine // Winter 2016

Experiments in Truth: Exploring Wheaton’s Experimental Courses Across Disciplines

Wheaton faculty offer a variety of experimental courses each year designed to further the college’s commitment to liberal arts excellence. According to Provost Dr. Stan Jones, Wheaton’s experimental course offerings shift and change to “explore the relationship of faith, learning, and living.” 

“As knowledge changes and expands, as student interests shift, as faculty expertise evolves and grows, and as the demands of the real world on our graduates change, our curriculum must refocus and change as well to provide our students with a truly excellent education,” Dr. Jones says. “Our experimental courses allow us to try out solutions before making them permanent parts of our curriculum.” 

From environmental stewardship to writing for social change, read on for faculty and student perspectives on the fruit borne from this year’s experimental course offerings.

ART 290: Collagraph Printmaking 

Professor Joel Sheesley, professor of art

Joel Sheesley wants his students to discover how to create low-tech and highly inventive prints “on a cardboard base on which various textured materials are collaged or glued in place.” 

“Students have to face endless unknowns,” Professor Sheesley says. “They have to create their own printing materials with little or no advance indication of what kinds of visual effects these materials will produce.” 

In this experimental course, Professor Sheesley has introduced three new concepts: printing from nontraditional materials; a focus on the discipline demanded by creative exploration; and imagery based on physical material rather than merely conceptual sources. 

Abby Amstutz ’16, a biblical and theological studies major with a studio art minor, views this class as a refreshing challenge. 

“I have really appreciated how independent this course has been,” Abby says. “The most challenging part of printmaking has been trying to anticipate how the plate will print the various textures I’ve built upon it.” 

Professor Sheesley also wants students to be able to trust the regenerative possibilities within the already created world. 

“Collagraph printmaking, in its repurposing of materials, encourages trust in the good creation,” Professor Sheesley says.

BITH 310 / BIOL 310: Environmental Stewardship: The Bible and Biology 

Dr. Kristen Page, professor of biology; and Dr. Sandra Richter, professor of Old Testament

In 2013, Dr. Sandra Richter reached out to Dr. Kristen Page to discuss the possibility of co-teaching a course on environmental stewardship from both scientific and biblical perspectives. Soon, with the help of a Faith and Learning Grant, their “Environmental Stewardship” class was born. 

“We have often had the chance in our classes to speak to these values, but have never had the chance to engage them directly in a course dedicated to the topic,” Dr. Richter says. “I do not ever have the chance to have a hard scientist in the room to talk through issues of integration. The Bible speaks to every aspect of a Christian’s life, but biology does too.” 

One idea students consider during the course is the human need for resources and how extraction of resources can impact ecosystems and, ultimately, human health. 

“Pedagogically, we are hoping that this course can contribute to the new Christ at the Core curriculum [to be implemented in fall 2016],” Dr. Page says. “Our students are working to identify an environmental issue in Wheaton. Then they will design and implement a project and present their conclusions and results to an audience outside of Wheaton College.” 

Students will also examine the biblical implications pertaining to stewardship of land and creature. 

“Proper stewardship is not simply a political issue that can be sidelined. Rather, this is a moral issue—an issue of the character and the will of God,” Dr. Richter says.

PSYC 480: Current Issues: School Psychology 

Dr. Elisha Eveleigh, assistant professor of psychology

Violence in schools, learning disabilities, and gender identity issues—these are topics that school psychologist Dr. Elisha Eveleigh addresses on a daily basis. As her work differs from traditional counseling or clinical psychology, Dr. Eveleigh wants to share the unique aspects of practicing school psychology with her students at Wheaton. 

Dr. Eveleigh requires her students to spend time working with children to implement theories taught in class, so the majority of Dr. Eveleigh’s students volunteer at local after school programs. One such organization is the Glen Ellyn Children’s Resource Center, which provides tutoring opportunities and social activities for refugee children. 

“I hope to build passion in the Wheaton students for underserved populations and to show them how we might reveal Christ’s kingdom through providing psychological services and practical support,” Dr. Eveleigh says.

PHIL 270: Virtues and Vices 

Dr. Jay Wood, professor of philosophy

To Dr. Jay Wood, philosophical questions are not merely an “ivory tower” academic interest but bear on the way we live our lives. According to Dr. Wood, ancient and medieval philosophers such as Aristotle and Aquinas offer deep wisdom to assist our growth in moral wisdom and understanding. 

“Cultivating virtues and avoiding vices is a matter of personal as well as Christian concern, touching as they do on such matters as wisdom, justice, and courage, and vices such as pride, envy, and anger,” Dr. Wood says. 

“Thoughts are constantly flourishing in class,” Jiani Sun ’18, a sophomore biblical and theological studies major, says. She notes that students are encouraged to follow Peter’s injunction to “make every effort to add to our faith, virtue.” 

“We are not only integrating faith and learning, but faith and living,” Dr. Wood says.

ENGW 320: Writing for Social Change 

Dr. James Beitler, assistant professor of English

By exploring writing as a means of social action, Dr. James Beitler hopes to support students as they write in and with communities outside of the classroom.

“This course offers opportunities to reflect on the ways that we represent ourselves and others through our writing,” Dr. Beitler says. 

Dr. Beitler divides the course into four parts: first, learning about common obstacles to meaningful social action; second, discovering how to “go public” with one’s writing; third, exploring the concept of writing as a means of social justice; and fourth, examining the virtue of hope for writers who want to catalyze social change. 

“We can use our material and experiences to change the world we live in,” Caroline Harbour ’18, an English writing major, says.

PHIL 330: Science & Christian Faith

Dr. Robert O'Connor, associate professor of philosophy

To investigate the nature of scientific reasoning, Dr. Robert O'Connor, associate professor of philosophy, hopes to help students discover the relationship between science and Christian faith from a philosophical perspective. 

“Confident faith requires the ability to see a way through challenges,” says Dr. O’Connor. “It doesn't require one have all the answers so much as a template for how to sort out those cases where the findings of the sciences seem to conflict with our Christian commitments.” 

John Snedeker ’13 says the most enjoyable part of the course was analyzing science from the outside rather than from his usual perspective within it. 

“Diving into the philosophy of science and better understanding the type of knowledge and truth that scientists are seeking was very informative,” John says. 

Dr. O’Connor also says students will achieve an appreciation for scientific inquiry, which has "collectively, collaboratively, and incrementally succeeded in discerning the actual entities, mechanisms, and structure of the world."

AHS 320: Preventing Neurobiological Disease

Dr. Nate Thom, assistant professor of biology

Inspired by the book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky (Holt Paperbacks, 2004), Dr. Nate Thom decided to explore how to prevent brain diseases. 

“Stress can be categorized as three different domains: novelty, controllability, and predictability,” Dr. Thom says. 

What Dr. Thom has found is that people who have a sense of general control tend to respond to stress well and they don’t easily get diseases. 

“Your faith certainly plays a large role in the idea of controllability,” Dr. Thom adds. “Who’s in control of whatever stress you are being exposed to? Is it you? Are you on your own? Or do you have a social group that supports you? And do you have a sovereign God that is in control of whatever is going on?” 

Adam O’Neill ’15, a psychology and pre-med major enrolled in Dr. Thom’s course, says the way we study science often involves isolating particular pieces of a complex system. 

“We must avoid using neuroscience, as naturalists do, to explain away the supernatural as purely biological phenomena,” O’Neill says. 

Dr. Thom hopes to add a human neuroimaging component to Wheaton’s biology lab next year.

Learn more about Wheaton's commitment to liberal arts excellence on their website.