SCU students master essential skills by taking classes they'd never realized they needed.
Heidi Williams and Clay Hamilton
Varied educational experiences have always been an important hallmark of the Jesuit tradition of educating the whole person—they encourage students to value differing ways of knowing and being in the world, different forms of knowledge within established disciplines, and new knowledge as well as that which preceded it.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the arts requirement in SCU’s core curriculum. Through creative approaches, there is an inherent call for people to slow down and reflect, to entertain other viewpoints, and to invite inquiry. And there is an opportunity for students to expand their horizons and learn valuable skills in ways never anticipated, particularly when they take classes outside their major.
Take one example: Brenda Woolley, an actor with 30 year’s experience in theatre, has an affinity for teaching the craft of acting and improvisation to non-actors. “People fear public speaking more than death. Acting is an abstract art form that gives rise to a great deal of fear, but I find engineers to be really open to thinking outside the box, and they are courageous in delving into the imagination.”
Classes like the one offered by Woolley allows students to try new things while fulfilling their arts requirement. And the skills they learn are useful not just for the class or their major, but for their career as well.
Through trust games and exercises in breath, relaxation, voice, and improvisation, students focus attention and energy on a part of the brain that may be under-stimulated in their more technical classes, building confidence in creating and performing in public as they learn to see things through the eyes of a different person.
“For those who take on this challenge, the payoff is sublime; it’s a joy that gives birth to something deep down inside that they always wanted to bring out. It’s a gem inside and that is inspiring to me,” said Woolley.
Benjamin Lynch ’14 and Peter Stephens ’14 took Woolley’s class in preparation for the School of Engineering’s Senior Design Conference. “Putting on a different face when doing a presentation helps with the jitters,” said Lynch, who subsequently found it easier to talk to potential employers about himself at career fairs, while also promoting his work. Stephens agreed, “It really helped me prepare for Senior Design—getting in front of people and improving my ability to think on my feet was a big plus. Knowing that I had been there before and knew how to attack being on stage took some of the fear away. Beyond Senior Design, it’s important for engineers to have a wide variety of skills in the global workplace.”
Woolley’s class isn’t the only arts class available for non-artists. Whether it’s dance, theatre, music, english, or any of the humanities, there are a variety of ways SCU students can learn skills they’d never realized they needed—and discover something about themselves and the world in the process.
Aldo Billingslea, professor of acting and performance studies in the Department of Theatre and Dance, says “You’ve got to nurture all of your students,” whether they’re actors or business majors. He wants to prime the actors to pursue theatre careers or graduate school; the others, to appreciate artistry and open eyes and ears and hearts to the world.
“What they’re doing while they’re here is finding out what makes their heart sing, but also taking their focus outward, finding out what’s going on in the world and what the world needs. And that point of intersection, where your greatest gifts meet the world’s needs—that’s your calling. The Jesuits were the first ones I heard say that a calling wasn’t just for the clergy, it was for everybody.”