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Students hit the streets for 'Thinking Space' class

April 23, 2010

Moving to New Orleans can be an overwhelming experience in many ways for first-year students. For Izabela Gasparri, a freshman from Milwaukee, enrolling in a First-Year Experience class at Loyola University New Orleans helped make the transition easier.

Gasparri enrolled in “Thinking Space,” taught by professor of English, Christopher Schaberg, which encourages students to observe the ordinary world, engage in everyday spaces and take a proactive, conscientious role in “thinking space,” instead of simply tuning out.

As part of its mission to educate the whole person and to make the freshman year a smooth one for students, Loyola 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.

Gasparri was interested in taking Schaberg’s seminar after hearing about the service project involved with the class. In conjunction with the local nonprofit, NolaCycle, students participate in a service learning project that will eventually help identify safe and reliable bicycle routes throughout the metro area to promote biking instead of driving. NolaCycle is a project aimed to create a high quality cycling map of New Orleans using volunteers to help to collect data by attending mapping events.

Gasparri and her biking partner and fellow freshman, Margaret Liederbach, have finished surveying their assigned route. The general assessment of the biking quality of the route includes pavement quality, road width, travel speed and streetcar tracks.

At the beginning of this semester, the class was assigned to read “Bicycle Diaries,” by David Byrne, solo musician and artist and former singer of the Talking Heads. “‘Bicycle Diaries’ is a sort of quiet manifesto for bicycle awareness,” said Schaberg.

“This is not the type of book I would have chosen on my own; however it was a good eye-opener and encouraged me to view life from a new perspective,” said Gasparri. “Basically, Byrne writes about his perception of cultural space as he sees it passing by on his bicycle. Perhaps I can also become aware of the unique attributes within the New Orleans culture by biking through it.”

Inspiration for the class came from Schaberg’s curiosity about how people connected with landscape and geography through writing.

“I hope that my ‘Thinking Space’ seminar opens students’ eyes to the textures and details of everyday life in our world, and that then they might participate fully and proactively in this world, rather than treat it as a mere spectacle or receptacle for life,” said Schaberg.

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,” said McKay.

For more information on the FYE seminars, 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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