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Broomball Night

It’s 10:30 on a Thursday night. Sixty students from the da Vinci Residential Community in Casa Italiana listen intently to Associate Professor Phil Kesten as he explains the physics of movement on ice. It’s not a formal physics class, but Kesten is getting rapt attention because the students are subsequently headed to a game of broomball. And they want to apply what they learn from him on the ice rink.

“I almost feel like one of those kids who hates fractions but accidentally learns them by baking cookies,” says Genevieve Kromm ’13, who is majoring in arts and sciences. “It’s a fun way to approach concepts like friction and inertia.”

Back in 2003 some students came across the idea of broomball—a sport that combines ice hockey and indoor soccer—and invited Kesten, then-faculty director of the residential learning community, to give a lecture that tied in with the game. “I decided to talk about sliding, friction, momentum, and it occurred to me that since I’ve studied ice—albeit ice on some of the moons of Uranus—that I would throw that in as well,” says Kesten.

Students have found the perfect recipe to build community with a game of broomball. It's simple. Put on your sneakers. Get a bunch of brooms and a round ball. Have fun.

The lecture was a big hit and gave Kesten the opportunity to “create an environment in which the students don’t have to feel that academics and fun are two separate things.”

It was an idea that worked in reality as freshman Kromm “kept in mind the inverse relationship between speed and friction” when running on ice in her sneakers with a broom-like stick. “I must have looked pretty funny,” she says. “But it was fun. Plus, I only fell once!”

The informal class setting and the subsequent game also afforded students the opportunity to strengthen their community. “It was the perfect excuse to get to know some of the other residents and interact with a faculty member I may or may not take a class with,” says Kromm.

Kesten says it’s all about integrating all the different pieces. “We’re giving them a holistic educational experience by bringing together the academic, the residential, and the social components,” he says. “They learn, they mature, and they acquire leadership skills from working and playing with their peers and professors.”

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