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Get Excited About Being Human

Drury professors empower students with the knowledge they need to effect positive change

By Jann Holland

Taking a stand has always been and will continue to be an important part of the Drury experience.

In fact, Drury's mission statement concludes that we will strive to "… liberate persons to participate responsibly in and contribute to a global community." To explore how Drury delivers on this mission, it's best to start at the beginning, with what is taught and instilled in our students.

Dr. Chris Panza, associate professor of philosophy, teaches Values Analysis and is an expert in the teaching of ethics. Panza encourages students to think about the concept of value in the context of a map. Once an individual understands the landscape and they establish their orientation on the map, they can then make decisions about where they are going. Being human means being constantly confronted with questions of value, such as what is important and what is not.

"For me, the importance of the ethics requirement is about getting kids to see why it's an essential and necessary part of human life to take the concept of 'value' seriously," said Panza. "Oftentimes, when students start to take value decisions seriously, taking a stand comes naturally. Really it's more about being human. It's important to understand that first."

Isaac Henson, a Drury senior and American Chemical Society chemistry major, completed Dr. Panza's Honors Values class last semester. In the class of six, each student was required to write a paper about an issue, from the perspective of a famous philosopher they had just read about, and then email the paper to their peers before class. Each student had to write a rebuttal and then the group discussed it in class. The exercise required each student to have a thorough understanding of the philosopher's position in order to defend his or her stance.

Not only did Henson feel it was a valuable way to learn, but he and his peers appreciated the engaged and lively dialogue that ensued. More important, Henson said that he decided to incorporate one of the values models into his life. Henson connected with the Virtue Ethics Model: "What would an ideal person do in a particular situation?"

With his sights set on epigenetic research, Henson said he could easily see how he will apply this model to his career—in everything from grant writing and data gathering to reporting. "From a virtues perspective," said Henson, "I want to be an honest person. So, I will be making decisions that guide me and help me to become an even more honest person in the future."

Dr. Michael Shirley, professor and director of Breech School of Business, is passionate about continuing to attract students who are not only interested in business but in helping to make a difference and contributing positively to their area of business.

"I share with prospective students that a career in business is not just about 'doing well.' It's also about doing well for those around you," said Shirley. "The liberal arts experience at Drury provides abundant opportunities to be highly effective. That's one of the reasons for service learning—becoming part of a community."

Take, for example, Dr. Steve Mullins' class called Economics of Poverty and Discrimination. As a professor of economics, Mullins' goal is to help students develop a sense of empathy and humility. "Many students enter my class thinking that capitalism is the exemplary model that other economies should emulate," said Mullins. "Yet we are living in a paradox of poverty in an affluent economy where one in six is defined as poor, and the majority of those individuals are children." In exploring these injustices, students reflect on what has happened to them in their lives and realize that perhaps they had gotten some breaks that others may not have. Students begin to see that many individuals who have been economically defined as poor are not so simply because they made the "wrong" decisions in life. Conversely, they may never have had access to the opportunities that are afforded to others.

In his Introduction to Environmental Economics class, Mullins and his students wrestle with a second type of market failure, where they explore the impacts of population growth on natural resource depletion. "If you were to ask the question, 'Which way of generating power is cheapest for our global community?' you might arrive at a very different answer," Mullins said, "than if you were to simply answer the question, 'Which way of generating power is cheapest for the community of Springfield?'" The group discusses implications of carbon emissions and global climate change and seeks to identify solutions that consider the greater good.

As students learn about the implications of their actions, they begin to consider ways they can help effect positive change and develop skills such as public speaking, collaboration and critical thinking. Dr. Patrick Moser, associate professor of French, helped Alpha Seminar students transform a service learning project for Ozark Greenways into a fully integrated course curriculum that resulted in the publishing of a book.

Moser's students collectively identified Ozark Greenways as their service learning project. Once the group began delving deeper into the project, they proposed that Moser extend the work to the entire year to afford them the opportunity to memorialize the history of Ozark Greenways. The class performed all of the research, pouring through archives, taking photographs, collaborating with Drury design arts majors on layout and design, interviewing Ozark Greenways Trails staff, volunteers and board members, and writing copy. Some students went through a grant-writing workshop led by the C.W. Titus Foundation that resulted in a grant of $8,300. These dollars were used to fund printing of the book and other project-related activities.

"Our first-year seminar students can say that they helped write a book," said Moser. "That's not an opportunity that all schools offer." Students also made a presentation to the Board of Directors at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center. The innovative project won Best Group and Best Overall Project during the 2010 Drury University Service Learning Awards presentation.

The ultimate goal is to instill in students excitement about being human. This affords each of us the opportunity to orient ourselves on the map, decide what we value, and contribute in ways that are not only significant to our own lives but to the lives of others as well. To quote American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."