Want to study different species of birds, plants and reptiles in Costa Rica? Or examine Moneyball from a sociological perspective? Take a May Experience class at Furman.
May Experience is an optional three-week term following the spring semester that allows students to explore topics, frequently outside their majors, in courses that are not offered during the academic year. Designed and led by Furman's faculty, the courses cover a wide variety of creative topics and provide students a single two-credit course, typically without prerequisites. Take a look at how some of our students took advantage of May Experience in 2014:
Story by Ron Wagner ’93, Contributing Writer
Furman English professor Melinda Menzer, Ph.D., knows exactly why she swims.
“When I’m swimming, I’m smiling,” she writes in her blog, 10mileswim.wordpress.com.
Menzer is smiling a lot. She literally travels miles in the water in her spare time, training for and competing in things like the five-mile, open-water Lowcountry Splash held in May in Charleston, S.C., and last summer she realized there was a way to combine her love of the water with her love of words.
“I was reading a lot of really great books about swimming, and it seemed to me this would make a great class,” she said. “What we’re doing is reading about swimming, we’re learning about swimming, and we’re actually swimming.”
So, what, like the difference between freestyle and the backstroke? Not quite.
“We’ve read historical, first-hand perspectives, nutrition and swimming—so the whole spectrum,” Sean McBratnie ’15, an English/philosophy double major, said. “One of my specialties is race and sexuality, so that’s why I was really interested in the ways swimming is sexualized and how racism resulted in the desegregation of pools.”
Indeed, the racist and class history of public pools in the Greenville area was a big focus of the class. Students read Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America by Jeff Wiltse before taking a field trip to the Upcountry History Museum and visiting several old public pool sites. Two—Cleveland Park, which the city closed rather than being forced to integrate, and Green Forest pool, which was used by black people—no longer exist, while the third—Gower Estates—is now open only to members.
“This is one of the most exciting parts of the class as far as I’m concerned,” Menzer said. “We talked about the segregation and integration of pools and its impact on different communities. Drowning rates in the African-American community are much, much higher than they are among the white community, across the U.S., in particular South Carolina, and it has to do with historical lack of access to pools.”
Somer Faust ’15, a Piedmont, S.C., native, gained a new perspective on the place she has always called home.
“I’m really glad I did it. We learned things I didn’t know about the community pools that used to be here, and integration, and that’s why they closed them. I didn’t have a clue and I’ve lived here forever,” Faust, a health science major, said. “Until it was brought to my attention I had no idea, so there have been some really neat aspects to this class.”
Story by Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer
The challenge was simple.
Perform a graceful leap, a Grand Jete, over a glass of water without knocking it over.
For Furman students learning classical ballet movements for the first time, performing in front of professional dancers may have seemed a bit daunting.
But, not a drop was spilled.
Twelve Furman students donned workout clothes for a ballet class with dancers from the Carolina Ballet Theatre as part of Professor Ken Kolb’s, Ph.D., May Experience course Sociology of Dance.
The three-week course, offered for the second time at Furman, examines class struggles, gender roles, body image issues, history of dance, and the role of dance in popular culture. Students not only received instruction in classical ballet but also modern dance and creative movement with Jan Woodward at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville.
“I hope the course will cultivate students’ interests in sociology,” said Dr. Kolb. “I hope they will be able to see that sociological analysis can be applied to anything.”
For some students, the course was an introduction to sociological concepts. For others, it provided a new perspective on dance and a new respect for the athleticism and grace of professional dancers.
After practicing her first ballet movements at the barre, “it made me wish that I could dance,” said Meg Kennedy ’17 of Kenilworth, Ill. “I really wanted to get all the steps right.”
As students practiced pointing their painted blue toenails or gliding across the floor in athletic socks, Kelsey Crum, the theatre’s coordinator of outreach and community engagement, and principal dancers Sam Chester and Adair Keller provided practical advice on proper techniques.
“Is this just the warm-up?” asked Stefan McManus ’15, who grew up around dance with his mother, a dance teacher.
McManus, a health sciences major from Great Falls, S.C., loved the Sociology 101 course he took in the spring and signed up for Kolb’s May X course to learn more about why people act and think the way they do.
“Dancing is also a great way to exercise,” said McManus, who plans to enroll in a respiratory therapy program after graduation.
While McManus was worried their dance skills may have been a disappointment to their teachers, Crum said that simply wasn’t the case.
“I was truly impressed with the students’ interest in dance and more specifically, the lives of Carolina Ballet Theatre’s professional ballet dancers. The students asked questions that were quite relevant to artistry and showed a respect of classical dancers,” said Crum. “An experience like this gives Furman students an opportunity to be involved in something unique, classical ballet. It provides students with a sense of passion, awareness, and exposure for something outside of their everyday lives.”
Story by Jessica Kalbarczyk, Staff Writer
Nothing kills a family vacation like waiting in line for an amusement park ride.
The good news: There might be a mathematical solution.
For the “Math and the Mouse” May Experience course, Furman’s math department took 12 students to Disney World’s Epcot to study the park’s waiting lines, ride times and distances between attractions. Their mission: Develop a tour plan to navigate the park in the shortest amount of time possible.
“We wanted to make this an emergent real world experience,” said Dr. Kevin Huston, associate professor of mathematics. “We found the best way to do this was to put students in a park and talk about the typical problems someone might face. We had them find the problems and apply mathematical solutions.”
Armed with a GPS tracking app on their iPads, the students were divided into five groups and given a little less than three weeks to find the quickest route between 18 attractions. The group that covered the most ground in the shortest amount of time would win the friendly competition.
So what is the quickest path through Epcot?
In a span of six hours, the winning team went from Soarin’ to Maelstorm, two rides in the park, before reaching the finish line 15 minutes before the next team. Check out a map of their winning plan here.
Of course, the assignment wasn’t purely about finding an solution to Epcot’s huge crowds. The project challenged the students to work together in finding a creative solution, and taught them how to collect their own data.
“I wanted the opportunity to see mathematics at work,” Joey Ianneta ’16, (Asheville, N.C.) said. “And let’s be honest: who doesn’t love Disney?”
When they weren’t navigating the park, the students had an opportunity to meet Disney professionals who deal with the park's mathematical quandaries on a daily basis. From pricing decisions to crowd control, the executives shared how their degrees in mathematics led them to a career at Disney.
“I enjoyed the content from those presentations,” Ianneta said. “But most of all, I enjoyed learning about the unique career and job opportunities available in my future profession.”
Story by Tina Underwood, Contributing Writer
Rain Poncho. Check.
Industrial strength mosquito repellent. Check.
Anti-itch ointment. Check.
High-powered flashlight for nighttime exploration. Check.
Rice for sucking out moisture trapped in cell phone. Check.
These are among the items you’ll likely find on a packing list for Furman’s Costa Rica Tropical Ecology May Experience. Folks in the Biology department might also add a couple of intangibles: a sense of humor, and a steely willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone.
Following exams in May, 14 students and Drs. Joe Pollard and John Quinn of the Biology Department embarked on the three-week excursion, a mini study away which has taken place every other year at Furman since 1990.
“We were separated from everybody and everything except nature for three weeks,” says Dainee Gibson ’16. “It was hard to believe it was real at times. You would see toucans with their brightly colored bills fly over, brilliant frogs and birds . . . and huge bugs.”
The experience is made possible through the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica, which oversees field stations in Palo Verde and La Selva among others. So, in addition to 10-mile hikes through dense forest, students were able to plug into the OTS network of educational sites and research.
“For students it’s fantastic because they get to see ongoing research—things you read about in textbooks,” says Quinn, who this year logged his first Costa Rica MayX.
Costa Rica occupies only .03 percent of the planet’s real estate, yet holds six percent of the world’s biodiversity—a reality that makes the country a perfect living laboratory for researchers studying ecosystems in tropical rain forests, tropical dry forests, and mountain cloud forests.
“As a field ecologist, I firmly believe it needs to be experienced first-hand," Pollard said. "The tropics are immensely important in the biodiversity and function of our planet, yet they are in great peril. So giving Furman students a chance to really understand the tropics is a very meaningful learning opportunity.”
Color-splashed poison dart frogs, reptiles that look like they skittered out of Jurassic Park, peccaries (pig-like creatures with bristly fur), countless winged fowl (and bats), white-faced capuchin and spider monkeys, and the piercing call of the howler monkey are just a handful of the animals encountered. Especially exciting for Dr. Quinn was being amongst the nearly 1,000 different bird species in the region. And in some locations, the concentration of the strawberry poison dart frog was one per square meter.
As for the buzzing, creeping, crawling varieties of animals—those took some getting used to. Gibson says, despite enduring “skies black with mosquitos” at times, and the requisite bites, “You got desensitized very quickly.”
Nestled in the heart of a national park, the field station at Palo Verde was the most rustic of the venues visited. Quinn says sleeping in mosquito nets and shaking out pillows before bed to check for scorpions had a way of setting the baseline for the trip.
Overall, the group was too awed by the beauty of lush tropics to be trifled with by a few bugs. The research, journaling, and blogging requirements for the trip also kept students focused on the tasks at hand. Students conducted field and laboratory research projects designed by professors and independently by the students themselves.
As for highlights of the trip, Sami Alkoutami ’16 says the experience was so amazing that picking a favorite moment is as hard as naming a favorite book. He says a 4 a.m. hike to view a sunrise in Palo Verde was unforgettable, as was bonding with newfound friends on a lagoon boardwalk, just listening to the nighttime sounds. Hiking four hours in a pelting downpour (sans rain jacket) was another memorable moment, made even more so by Dr. Quinn’s impromptu puddle jumping and splashing episode. “It was good to see professors are kids at heart, just like us,” says Alkoutami.