If you’ve ever felt the urge to learn about Zoroastrianism (one of the world’s oldest religions according to the online Ancient History Encyclopedia), look no further than this year’s sophomore projects.
Each year sophomores complete the projects as part of their English or history curriculum, typically writing a lengthy essay and presenting on their chosen topic.
Last year’s sophomores were free to choose any topic they desired and created only a presentation, which was presented to their English and history classes.
This year, sophomore English teachers Patricia Fels and Brooke Wells shifted the project’s focus to cover world religions and world languages. Students investigated a topic of their choice within the two categories.
Topics being covered include the controversies associated with the Christian Scientists’ rejection of medicine, the rise of women rabbis in Judaism and the Sea Org group associated with Scientology.
The project ties in with the sophomore English curriculum, in which students discuss religion, including the story of the Tower of Babel and the development of language, according to Fels.
“It’s not as panicky for the students when they have a specific topic,” Wells said of the decision to narrow the project’s focus.
Sophomore Nate Jakobs said he doesn’t mind the change.
“Religion (and language) as an approach is interesting because we’re forced to explore new topics we normally wouldn’t learn about,” Jakobs said.
Part of the students’ research for their topics must include interviewing an expert on their subject and attending a religious service or cultural event.
Wells and Fels also chose to return to the formerly standard product of both an essay and presentation.
“(The essay) is a good educational tool,” Fels said. “Students learn how to research a paper, organize information, format, make a works cited list and do in-text citations. All those different skills are important for college papers.”
“(We) typically hear returning students mention in the alumni panel that (the sophomore project) is very helpful (in college),” he said.
The essay will constitute the sophomores’ final-exam grade for their second-semester English classes.
In addition to the extra writing practice, students are also meeting in pairs with director of technology Tom Wroten. Wroten speaks each year at the sophomore moratorium, a designated work day for the sophomores, about how to create an effective presentation.
However, Wroten was not satisfied with the single day.
“The moratorium doesn’t give (students) enough time to start on their presentation to the point where they have a valid topic,” Wroten said.
“These meetings create a better dialogue.”
Wroten assists students in narrowing their projects’ focuses and creating strong outlines. While the paper can be more general, he said, an eight-to-10-minute presentation needs to be more specific.
Sophomore Jacqueline Chao said Wroten’s help with planning her presentation was more than welcome. Her topic is one of the edgiest, according to librarian Joanne Melinson. It centers around Christian Science, and asks whether religious healing is a freedom or child abuse when it fails and the child dies.
“My topic is really controversial, and Tom gave me some great ideas on how to present it,” Chao said.
Wroten is also encouraging students to be creative.
“I’m pushing them this year to come up with a hook – an angle – so that it’s more interesting for the audience,” he said. “And from what I’ve heard so far, I’m excited for this year’s topics.”
Sophomores will present to their English classes during the week of March 20-24. Following this, the top-10 projects will be chosen by Wroten and Wells to be presented to the rest of the students and faculty in the Matthews Library on Monday, April 17, and Tuesday, April 18.
A board of faculty judges will choose a first, second and third place from the top 10, and the remaining seven will receive honorable mentions.