College Courses Add New Dimensions

By Weaver, Rachel | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 26, 2013 | Go to article overview

College Courses Add New Dimensions


Weaver, Rachel, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Washington & Jefferson students travel to another dimension to learn philosophy. Robert Morris scholars use music to study mathematical concepts. Point Park students learn how to sell out venues.

Western Pennsylvania colleges are exploring ways to make learning engaging with classes beyond the scope of traditional education. The classes often fill up fastest and are the most popular with students, educators say.

"Why should colleges have these ivory towers between disciplines when there are so many shared ideas between them?" said Heather Pinson, Robert Morris University professor of communications and media arts.

Pinson teaches a class with math professor Monica VanDieren called Math, Music and Art in which students apply theories of each discipline to study four themes: symmetry, finite and infinity, improv, and searching for truth and self.

Pinson admits the concept is complex, but students appreciate the class, for which one of their required textbooks is a graphic novel - - a novel in which the story is told with artwork, typically comic book art.

"The idea of the classroom is changing," said Joe Douglas, 21, a senior actuarial science major from Greenville, Mercer County. "Ten years ago, it would be someone standing there telling you the information. Now, it's much more interactive. All classes are transitioning to that."

During a recent class, Pinson played piano and taught students the mathematics behind chords: Each note is separated by one half- step, totaling up to 12 for an entire scale. Each student was assigned a note and, while standing in a circle, they held a piece of string to make triangles depicting each chord.

This triangle could be rotated or flipped by applying recent mathematical discoveries to the treatment of the musical notes, Pinson said. Students can maneuver points of the triangle over the diameter of the circle to create a new chord.

"You have to be able to work with others and be innovative and be problem-solvers," she said.

Andrew Rembert, a Washington & Jefferson philosophy professor, teaches The Twilight Zone, which requires students to watch episodes of the popular 1960s television show, then delve into its themes of time travel, what it means to be human, eternal life and fear of the unknown.

Many students take it as a way to fulfill one of three required humanities courses. No matter their majors, students flock to the class. Rembert has to set aside a few slots for freshmen so that upperclassmen can't get first bid on all the spots.

"You think outside the box and learn more in-depth concepts," said Turner Rintala, 18, a freshman from Philadelphia. …

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