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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Immersion Summer 2023: Murals, Video Games, and Starry Skies

This summer, more than 50 Knox students participated in the Immersion Summer Term, choosing either to collaborate with Knox instructors on six-week projects or join an intercultural learning four-week program. Both options involved being part of a cohort of students and focusing intently on creating research and relationships.

This type of immersive research experience is a cornerstone of a Knox education, and Associate Professor of Classics Hilary Lehmann, who led a group this summer, describes these kinds of experiences as “exhilarating” for students. “Not only does the immersive experience prepare students for work after college, but it's also the quintessential college experience because they are able to totally devote themselves to intellectual pursuits. Getting to take control of what you study, what you learn, is incredibly empowering,” Lehmann said.

Read on to learn more about the 2023 Immersion Summer programs.

6-Week Projects:

Hilary Lehmann

Up, Down, Left, Right: Religion, Ritual, and Video Games

Lecturer in Religious Studies Scott Harris wanted to find a way to transfer the storytelling medium of video games into his Immersion Summer course, which asked students to apply a variety of theoretical approaches to “read” video games through the lenses of myth and ritual, addressing the fundamental research question, “is the interactivity between player and narrative in a video game analogous to the interactivity of a religious ritual?” 

At its core, Harris says this experience was a great opportunity for students to be in the "driver's seat" of their education and have to develop the skills needed to conduct independent, mentored work. 

“This summer’s collaborative research project was a good opportunity to improve my research and writing skills. It was helpful to do this kind of work outside of a typical classroom setting and have a professor and a group of peers to bounce ideas off of. Best of all, I had an excuse to play video games,” Sarah Borchert ’24 said.

Hilary Lehmann

The Telescope: Investigations Into the Night Sky

Students were invited to gaze into the universe alongside associate professors of physics, Nathalie Haurberg and Mark Shroyer, utilizing the Knox Observatory for their research. Shroyer says the goal of the course was to focus on the solar system and promote observational astronomy research. Students worked in orbital mechanics, astrophotography, optical spectrometry, and more.

Students spent many late nights at the observatory, creating a unique classroom setting only possible during the summer. Haurberg says it was fulfilling watching the students learn to use the advanced equipment within the observatory and eventually take control independently as their confidence grew. 

Students walked out of the course with imaging of the solar system that took weeks to complete but produced views that weren’t achievable without the equipment available through the Knox Observatory. 

“It was great to have a chance to explore all of the scientific principles that let our telescopes and cameras work, and getting to immediately take that knowledge and use it to learn things about stars and galaxies that are trillions of miles away was a really fun and unique experience,” Alexis Riggs ’24 said.

Hilary Lehmann

Finding the Founders: Abolition, Manifest Destiny, and Settler Colonialism

Associate Professor of Classics Hilary Lehmann led a course focused on exploring Knox’s abolitionist legacy through different lenses. Students joined Lehmann in the Knox College archives to better understand the founding of the College in the wider contexts of settler colonialism, religion and morality, education, white supremacy, and the abolitionist movement. They developed individual but interconnected research questions and worked collaboratively in the library, ultimately writing essays to be published on the Abolition Lab website.

Knox student Izzy Oliver chose the program because she wanted to do something interesting over the summer, but she ended up forging incredible relationships and learning how to conduct scholarly research in the library. “I had no idea I would love working in the archives, and I’m so grateful to have discovered the wealth of knowledge contained in the archives,” Oliver said. 

Decolonizing News Media Literacy: Abolitionist and Activist Approaches to "Fake News"

Associate Professor of Anthropology-Sociology Jonah Rubin brought together a group focused on examining the ways in which media literacy organizations perpetuate “fake news” and the strategies available to fight back. Students conducted six weeks of digital ethnographic research across several media websites, discussing the subtle yet powerful ideological and political messages embedded in both "fake news” and the varied strategies for combating it. Students also actively interrogated the approaches and proposed their own media literacy interventions designed to suggest new ways of approaching the consumption, circulation, and creation of critical media. 

Rubin chose the topic because it is timely and relevant to students. “Misinformation is an incredibly complex problem and nobody has the right answer yet. I think it is both more challenging and more rewarding to participate in the process, both by seeing what others are actually doing and by joining in with the difficult process of guiding critical, grounded analyses of the ways media construct and facilitate social change,” he said. 

4-Week Programs:

Hilary Lehmann

Japanese-American History in Chicago

Visiting Instructor in Japanese Natsumi Hayashi’s course took students on an exploration of Japanese-American history in Chicago, asking students to consider how Chicago's relationship with Japan began. 

Through online resources, expert talks, and historical preservation activities, students deciphered where Chicago's Japanese-American community came from; how they lived before, during, and after World War II; and what Japanese Americans are doing now. 

“The importance of history as a link to the present and the importance of passing on history will be understood through research into the history of Japanese Americans and the context in which that research exists in today's society,” Hayashi said.

Hayashi says students were given the opportunity to interact with many Japanese-American artifacts along their travels, including a Buddhist altar made in an incarceration camp placed at a Buddhist temple along their route. She believes this Immersion Summer course gave students a chance to gain knowledge in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a standard classroom setting. However, the research can be translated into the classroom to help their education move forward. 

“The course helped me to realize that there is so much more to the world than my area of study/major. And sometimes you might think things are hard, and you are not capable of doing them. But, hey, try, give it a shot, and you will love it, you will love the feeling,” Ulpanay Djoldasova ’23 said.

Underrepresented in Healthcare: Intercultural Exploration of American Healthcare

Director of the Vovis Center for Research and Advanced Study and Health Professions Advising Lisa Harris and Professor of Biology Judy Thorn helped students examine the interaction between physician and patient and the influence of socioeconomic status, geographical background (rural/urban), gender identity, and racial identity have on the quality of healthcare received. 

Students engaged with a variety of texts facilitated discussions and participated in three off-campus visits to medical and health professions schools in the region. Students were encouraged to engage their own personal reflections and experiences while grappling with the larger systemic issues of intersectionality, social justice, and equity. 

“Immersion Summer and opportunities like it allow students to dig in deep, without distractions, and explore a topic simply to learn,” Harris said. “Many students talk about how freeing it is to learn, explore, and discuss without a grade they are worrying about. It seems to be student learning at its best—it's self-driven, motivated, and exhilarating."

Students were provided with time to reflect on what they observed and what has changed about their relationship with healthcare and/or healthcare providers. They were then asked to create a plan for the rest of the summer, next term, and all the way into next year for how they will continue to engage with these issues as they relate to their future career or professional goals.

Hilary Lehmann

Middle Eastern Music in the United States: History and Performance

Students joined Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Alyssa Mathias for a program centered on the history of Middle Eastern music. The group explored the diversity of Middle Eastern cultural life and art in the country. 

Hands-on immersion started from day one, with rehearsals, listening exercises, private lessons, and movie nights, alongside classroom discussions of history and culture. During the third week, the group traveled to Chicago, Illinois and Dearborn, Michigan to take part in workshops with renowned musicians, visit cultural sites, and explore the Arab American National Museum. 

Mathias was struck by how small parts of the experience ended up bonding the students the most. Artistically, she says the students were exposed to rhythms, intonations, and refreshing new ways to approach this style of music that wouldn’t be possible without hearing and watching it be played firsthand. 

"The Middle Eastern Music immersion program allowed me the unique experiences of working collaboratively with Alyssa, receiving individualized lessons from experts such as Karim Nagi on riqq, and performing a concert of a highly varied repertoire of musical cultures that had previously been entirely new to me," said Kendra Hossain ’24.

The course concluded with a concert back on campus, where students showcased the new musical styles they learned throughout the summer from traditional Arab, Armenian, Jewish, Kurdish, and Turkish repertoires.

Crossing Borders, Building Solidarity: Affective Labor and the Chicago Mural Movement

Led by Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Gonzalo Pinilla, students in this course researched the untold stories of the immigrant experience through the lens of Latino Americans’ contribution to the Chicago Mural Movement. Through seminars, field trips, independent research, and the production of an open educational resource digital story map, students explored how education, immigration, identity, and political and social issues affect visual arts representation. 

Pinilla recalled that one of the most significant moments of the program was a meeting with feminist Chicano muralist Elizabeth Reyes, who shared how murals continue to be a form of cultural activism practiced by teenage girls in neighborhoods like Little Village or “La Villita” in south Chicago. 

Prior to signing up, Karen Castro ’24 didn’t know much about the Chicano art movement. “It was very helpful to be able to talk to people who were actively part of the art movement,” she said. “Each artist had their own distinctive styles of art but it was incredible to hear how their art extended beyond simply beautifying their communities; their art and artistic abilities were used to bring their communities together and uplift their voices.”

Hilary Lehmann

Performing [____]- American Identity: Folkloric Perspectives on Hyphenated Identities 

Visiting Assistant Professor of Modern Languages/German Brandy Wilcox chose to focus her program on the tricky concept of “American” identity as an intersection of multiple identities, i.e., African-American, German-American, LGBTQ+-American, and Disabled-American. Through the lens of folklore, students identified, analyzed, and presented how various folk groups respect and honor their multiple identities while living within a US-American context. The group traveled to observe and participate in performances of identity, including German-American heritage, a Pride celebration, and 4th of July celebrations. 

“Together, we explored what it means to respect and honor multiple identities and heritages while living and working within a US-American context,” said Wilcox. “These experiences bring a new perspective to students on what it means to dive into a topic or question beyond a classroom-only setting.”

Kamele'okekai Lattig ’25 called the program the “highlight” of their summer. “Not only was the program intellectually engaging, but I stepped outside of my comfort zone in studying folklore and it has made me a better historian, which, as a history major, is exactly what I was hoping for,” Lattig said. 

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Printed on Saturday, June 15, 2024