Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives


Paideia Conversations

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    Therese Shelton shows students in her Paideia Conversation group the book they will be reading.
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    Students in Therese Shelton's Paideia Conversation group try their hand at making tetradedrons while engaging in a conversation about their experiences with math in middle and high school.
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New program extends the Paideia experience to all four years

It used to be that students who wanted to participate in Southwestern’s signature Paideia® program had to wait until their sophomore year.

Not anymore.

A new program called “Paideia Conversations” is extending the Paideia experience to first-year students. The program offers students the opportunity to meet monthly from October to February with a Southwestern professor to discuss a book or topic of the professor’s choosing.

“These conversations are designed to continue the best aspects of what students experience in their First-Year Seminars and look forward to the opportunities the Paideia Program offers,” said David Gaines, an English professor who serves as director of the Paideia program.

Response to the program has been positive. One hundred and thirty-five students – or one third of the first-year class − signed up to participate in conversations ranging from “Demonization in Our Public Discourse: How We Talk About Muslims, Migrants and Political Opponents” to “Building Lives Through Math Teamwork.” The program also is open to transfer students who participate in the Advanced Entry Seminars in the fall.

Students have been assigned to groups consisting of nine students from different majors – much like the Paideia program. Funding from the Paideia endowment is enabling the program to cover the cost of all the reading materials.

Melissa Byrnes, assistant professor of history, said she decided to offer her conversation on “Demonization in Our Public Discourse: How We Talk About Muslims, Migrants and Political Opponents” after the controversy erupted over a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. For her group’s first meeting, which was held the day before the Nov. 2 elections, she had students bring in examples of political demonization – both past and present.

Therese Shelton, associate professor of math, said she decided to offer her conversation on “Building Lives Through Math Teamwork” after reading a book titled “All of the Above” by Shelley Pearsall. The book is based loosely on a true story about a group of middle school students who grow as individuals and as a team by building a giant tetrahedron from many smaller ones in an attempt to break a world record in 2002.

Shelton said she hopes her conversation will help students think about the development of their own math skills and also consider the broader issue of how life experiences can affect how children do in school (many of the students in the book come from disadvantaged backgrounds).

At their first meeting, students in the group tried their hand at making tetrahedrons while Shelton guided them through a conversation about their own experiences in middle school and high school.

Audrey Olena, a senior physics and music major, is helping Shelton with her group. At the end of the discussion, she shared that she wants to do Teach for America after graduation because she thinks schools “shouldn’t give up on kids, no matter what their background is.”