Humanities focus of program in OxfordBy Heather Buchanan | 02/16/2014 11:00pm
Every summer, 45 University of Alabama students participate in an interactive learning experience at the University of Oxford in the U.K. as part of the UA in Oxford faculty-led study abroad program.
Entering its 35th year, the 33-day program offers students the opportunity to earn credit for English, history and honors courses at Worcester College in Oxford. Harold Selesky, associate professor of history and program director, described the program as multi-faceted in that it can cater to anyone.
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“Not everybody has the same interests,” Selesky said. “It’s not a program designed or exclusively limited to English or history. It’s not even limited to Honors College.”
Recently, program administrators have been trying to reach out to students from all areas of study. Robert Halli, dean emeritus of the Honors College, has been teaching literature with the program since 2002 and described how they have broadened the program’s focus to attract a wide variety of students.
“We put in these courses that are core curriculum courses, and the upside of that is we get chemical engineers coming over because they need the nine hours in humanities and fine arts,” Halli said.
Julia Wachs, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, participated in the program during the summer of 2012 and took honors and English courses. Wachs said the availability of core classes allowed her to study in Oxford while also completing her engineering degree.
“I know a lot of engineering students don’t think they can do both [study abroad and co-op], but I was able to do both and I’m still graduating in five years,” Wachs said. “Those two classes I took, they counted towards my major.”
Tricia McElroy, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and UA at Oxford instructor, praised the program’s ability to succeed in creating courses that present a strong correlation between the material and location of study.
“Our faculty work very hard to make sure that their courses are anchored in Oxford, or at least the surroundings,” McElroy said. “We tend to choose history and English courses [so] that the teachers can draw on the cultural resources.”
In this vein, Halli said his honors British literature coursed focuses heavily on authors with a link to the surrounding area.
“My class, Honors English Literature II, concentrates as much as I can on authors from Oxford, authors who wrote about Oxford, authors who have Oxford in their works,” Halli said.
The group takes many excursions and field trips to get a closer look at the material which they are studying. Kelsey Curtis, a junior majoring in English, Spanish and philosophy, took a Shakespeare course enhanced by live performances of his plays.
“We read ‘Macbeth’ before we came, and then we saw ‘Macbeth’ at the Globe Theater. We read ‘Hamlet’ while we were there, and then went and saw ‘Hamlet,’” Curtis said. “I think it was different really being in the story, more than just reading it and talking about it.”
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The UA in Oxford program also boasts a close relationship with the Oxford faculty. McElroy has taught English courses alongside Oxford faculty since 2007. She said it adds another dimension to the program.
“We’re trying more and more to hire Oxford tutors as well, so almost every year of the program we hire at least one tutor or one faculty member from Oxford to teach a course,” McElroy said. “These are particularly rich for the students because they’re getting to work with the Oxford faculty.”
Amanda Morel, a senior majoring in English, said her time at Oxford altered the way she thought about studying.
“The atmosphere is so academic, so it really made me want to explore other options in academics here and write more or study more,” Morel said. “It really opened my eyes to different things to study.”
This year, the UA in Oxford program will take place during the Summer II term.