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Students research real-life issues with Rebuilding New Orleans class

December 4, 2009

As part of its mission to educate the whole person, Loyola University New Orleans has implemented a program of seminars for all first-year students. The seminars are special-topics courses conducted by leading Loyola faculty. All are small classes grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge and an exploration of values. They provide unique classroom experiences, as well as co-curricular events, field trips, dinners, films and other social gatherings.

Staying true to the mission of the First-Year Experience, political science professor Peter Burns is teaching Rebuilding New Orleans, a hands-on approach to offering solutions to real problems affecting the city.

Burns approached several elected New Orleans officials to solicit policy projects, including New Orleans Councilmembers Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis, members of the local and state Recovery School District, the Office of Recovery and Economic Development, the New Orleans Public Schools and the Office of Intergovernmental Relations.

Burns asked officials to identify issues that were of utmost importance to them and then had his students research the topics and offer solutions to the problems.

Councilmembers Stacy Head, Arnie Fielkow and Shelley Midura have issued projects to Burns’ class in the past. Several policy research projects for students came to fruition, including blighted housing, addressing the use of assault weapons and improving practices in the educational system. The students divided and conquered, researching online and making calls.

One of the students in the current class, Lindsey Martin, is researching whether seventh and eighth grade students should be separated from children in kindergarten through sixth grade, and determining which is ultimately more beneficial. This project was proposed by the Orleans Parish superintendent of schools.

“As this year has progressed I have found myself looking forward to our nightly classes each week,” says Martin. “I think my two favorite things about this class would be the enthusiasm that Dr. Burns puts forth, as well as the bonding and learning that I share with everyone in my class.”

Freshman Maria Solis-Zavala, one of the students tackling the blighted housing project, sees this class as an experience she can take beyond Loyola.

“I believe learning so much about the effects Katrina had on New Orleans and just about the city in general is extremely useful. We are all part of the New Orleans community now, and taking this class is making us feel more informed and responsible about the city,” says Solis-Zavala. “For me, this experience has also been inspirational, and has led me to possibly pursue an internship with city government to learn even more about how to help the city recover.”

Melanie McKay, Ph.D., vice provost for faculty affairs, sees the seminar experience as a tool for students to use to approach learning in all of their classes.

“A liberal arts education teaches students to synthesize knowledge from different subject areas and to reflect critically on facts and ideas. These seminars help our first-year students begin that process,” says McKay.

For more information on the FYE, contact James Shields in the Office of Public Affairs at 504-861-5888 or jshields@loyno.edu.

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Loyola at a Glance is written and distributed for the faculty, staff, students and friends of Loyola University New Orleans. It is published by the Office of Public Affairs, Greenville Hall, Box 909, 7214 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118. (504) 861-5888.

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