Hamline News

Making Connections


By Marla Holt

Eleven chemistry students at Hamline University have changed their view of fine art, thanks to a J-term course that taught them to look beneath the surface of a painting. Using scalpels and X-Acto knives, they removed microscopic cross-sections from six replicas of Impressionist works painted by chemistry professor Deanna O’Donnell. They used the tiny particles to determine the chemical makeup and layer structure of each painting.

“They used what they’re learning as chemists to study art,” O’Donnell says. “Artists put materials together in a way that is visually pleasing, but those materials change over time, and chemical degradations potentially have a big impact on the composition and integrity of the piece and how we interact with it.”

O’Donnell’s class was just one of Hamline’s new J-term courses. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, these types of hands-on, high-impact educational practices—including undergraduate research, collaborative assignments, internships, and service learning—benefit students by engaging them in creative, open-ended inquiry.

“Education is no longer about the sage on the stage,” Provost Eric Jensen says. “Students need to do signature work, not just have an answer presented to them by a faculty member. They should have the opportunity to derive their own answers.”

Taking the Stage 

Music professors Kathy Thomsen and Deb Carbaugh team-taught an opera and musical theater workshop in which 20 students prepared 17 different scenes from shows such as “The Magic Flute,” “Rent,” “Les Miserables,” “West Side Story,” and many others. The class comprised students of all majors, some of whom might not be able to participate in a theatrical production, given other academic obligations. In addition to many hours of vocal training, the students learned blocking, acting, and directing, and wrote character and scene analyses and program notes for their end-of-term concert.  

“It was very rigorous,” says Melissa Thompson ’16, noting that the professional direction as well as the peer critique she received was helpful in refining her performance. “I enjoyed learning opera scenes, which take a lot more vocal control and finesse.”

Everyone participated in at least a handful of scenes, learning the mechanics of each musical piece, be it a Broadway barnburner or a more delicate aria.

Bringing People Together 

Jim Scheibel, honorary professor of practice, organizational leadership, and public policy, taught a community-organizing course to help students acquire the skills needed to bring people together around common values and issues to effect change.

“We endeavored to learn how people develop as strong citizens to build communities,” says Scheibel, whose students examined the lives of famous organizers, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, and Saul Alinsky. The students also worked in teams on several campaigns centered on issues of importance to the Hamline community: preventing violence against women on campus, increasing post-grad job opportunities for students, and improving public transportation on Snelling Avenue, for example.

“The students gained practical experience in organizing people around common issues,” says Scheibel, a former mayor of Saint Paul. “They learned how to pull together different strengths for a collective whole through relationship building and networking.”

A Global Perspective

Hamline students also traveled the world during J-term, studying in such locations as Great Britain, central Europe, and China.

A philosophy course on development ethics began on campus by examining how various issues such as education, resource distribution, and standard of living affect a nation’s classification as third world or first world. The class then traveled throughout Jamaica for two weeks, learning how the island nation connects to the outside world and how its culture, environment, economy, and history inform its development.

“Jamaica is known for its beaches and tourism,” says philosophy professor Sam Imbo, who led the group of 10 students. “I wanted them to see there is much more to Jamaica; there isn’t one way of understanding a nation and its people. Every place is complicated. That complexity is not fully appreciated until you are there, dealing with people and having firsthand experiences.”

The group visited cultural sites and listened to guest lecturers to learn about Jamaica’s history of slavery, reggae music, art, religion, and ecology, says Talia Haibara ’16. “The media shapes so much of what we know of the world,” she says. “This experience helped me to see that issues, particularly ones surrounding development, are always more complex. If we want to be global citizens, it’s important to get outside our comfort zones.”