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Class of 2017 Gets Engaged

CONWAY, Ark. (August 26, 2013) – Football isn’t the only exciting new program at Hendrix this semester.

Faculty and students in the class of 2017 are kicking off a new interdisciplinary seminar course called The Engaged Citizen (TEC).

TEC was developed by Hendrix faculty from across disciplines to focus on a topic that relates in some way to being an engaged citizen.

Some of the TEC topics offered this year include spirituality and the creative arts; poverty; the art of subversion; sex and gender; origins and ethics; images of politics, power and civil society; engagement, happiness, and the good life; and ethics, story, and social transformation. [See full list below]

First-year students were given brief summaries of the available topics and ranked their top five choices. All students were matched with one of their top five choices, according to Hendrix politics professor Dr. Jay Barth ’87, a member of the faculty committee overseeing the development of the new course. Barth also serves as director of civic engagement projects.

The new course will be taught by dyads, or pairs of two professors, to approach their shared theme from their particular disciplinary perspective. Students are divided between the two professors, and the classes will rotate so students interact with both professors.

TEC replaces Journeys, an incoming freshmen course that was taught for a decade.

Faculty began to consider alternatives to Journeys that allowed professors to teach from their strengths and honored both student and faculty choice. Because TEC brings together two faculty members from different disciplinary perspectives, it promotes a more interdisciplinary experience for incoming freshmen, Barth said.

“It’s rare that I have the chance to help students think through the ways physics informs the question of what it means to live life as an engaged citizen,” said Hendrix physics professor Dr. Todd Tinsley, who is teaching Origins and Ethics with religious studies professor Dr. Robert Williamson. “Rarer still is the opportunity to do that with a biblical scholar.”

“That’s a great lesson in the value of a liberal arts education,” Tinsley added. “Most questions worth considering in life are informed by multiple perspectives, and TEC lives that out.”

Other faculty agree.

“I think this course has a lot of very positive potential,” said biology professor Dr. George Harper, who will teach a TEC section called The Evolved Citizen:  On the Origin of Human Life, Mind and Values with philosophy professor Dr. James Dow. “When I look at the dyad partners (e.g. biologist/philosopher, biblical scholar/physicist, chemist/historian), I am fascinated by the different perspectives that will be represented. We picked our own partners, we chose and developed our own topics, and the students selected the topics that interested them the most.”

“Our world is filled with complex and challenging issues like persistent poverty, climate change, and genetic engineering that require information from multiple disciplines and perspectives in order to be understood,” Harper said. “This course explicitly acknowledges that, and allows each of us to bring our particular expertise to the larger conversation so that we all come away with a fuller understanding and the ability to make informed decisions on such issues.”

Hendrix chemistry professor Dr. Chris Marvin and history professor Dr. Sasha Pfau have paired up to teach Enhanced Humans and Magic Pills this year.

“This class provides us with an opportunity to look at some complex topics that are really conducive to an interdisciplinary approach, where our understanding benefits from two distinct perspectives,” explained Marvin. “We are looking at questions involving pharmaceutical use and bioethics from a perspective that is equally grounded in history and science.”

“These are exciting questions for me as a scientist,” he added. “And this is a unique opportunity for first year students to tackle these questions in a seminar setting.”

In addition to promoting an interdisciplinary approach, TEC introduces new students to the College’s engaged learning ethos at the beginning of the undergraduate experience.

The College’s engaged learning program Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning. Odyssey requires every Hendrix student to complete at least three engaged or hands-on learning activities from internships and international study to research and service.

“It gives the premium we place on civic engagement a prominent place in the curriculum, and it gets students involved in an Odyssey-like experience from their first semester,” said Hendrix Provost Dr. Robert L. Entzminger.

“This new course will provide incoming students an introduction to engaged learning tied to course content, something that students will continue to flesh out on their own through their Odyssey experiences. It will also provide students an explicitly interdisciplinary analysis of a topic in the first semester,” he says. “Both engaged learning and interdisciplinarity are hallmarks of the liberal arts experience at Hendrix and students will be introduced to them from the get-go.”

Every TEC dyad shares four components, which professors are free to interpret as they choose:

  • At least one formal writing assignment for each professor
  • An engaged learning activity
  • Reflection upon the engaged learning activity
  • A summative experience during finals week (e.g. an exam, presentations, group event, etc.) 

TEC learning goals include:

  • The ability to comprehend and appreciate a set of complex issues relevant to being engaged citizens.
  • The ability to make connections between the evidence and methods from two distinct disciplines in order to formulate arguments about engaged citizenship.
  • The ability to express those arguments clearly in writing and discussion.
  • The ability to engage in and reflect on experiential learning that connects directly to the classroom experience, preparing the students for vibrant Odyssey experiences later in their Hendrix careers.

Along with reinforcing the value of interdisciplinary and engaged learning, TEC reinforces the campus’s commitment to civic engagement, Barth said.

The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement 2011 report A Crucible Moment that was deeply critical of higher education for not doing enough to enhance a vibrant democracy in the U.S.  Read the full report here.

The new TEC course will complement several new and existing initiatives at Hendrix that promote civic engagement, said Barth. For example, Hendrix is an active member in three national civic engagement initiatives, including Project Pericles, Imagining America, and the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty.

"I think that this course really answers the call of A Crucible Moment encouraging all of higher education to think about its role in encouraging critical thinking about engagement in a democratic society,” Barth said. “As the variety of courses included in TEC show, there are innumerable ways for young people to engage critically with the complicated issues of our day. I'm glad that Hendrix is taking a step into a leadership role on this issue nationally."


The Engaged Citizen will include the following 14 dyads for fall 2013:

  • TEC: Religion, History, and Identity in Asia  
  • TEC: Spirituality and the Creative Arts  
  • TEC: Engaged Art  
  • TEC: Poverty: Why Our Communities Need the Engaged Citizen  
  • TEC: The Art of Subversion  
  • TEC: The Evolved Citizen:  On the Origin of Human Life, Mind and Values
  • TEC: Sex and Gender  
  • TEC: Origins and Ethics  
  • TEC: Writing Changing Places  
  • TEC: The Great Depression:  Economics, History and Politics
  • TEC: Images of Politics, Power and Civil Society  
  • TEC: Slaves, Revolutionaries and Citizens: The Haitian Revolution in History and Literature  
  • TEC: Engagement, Happiness, and the Good Life  
  • TEC: Enhanced Humans and Magic Pills  
  • TEC: Ethics, Story, and Social Transformation

For a description of each TEC dyad, visit


Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. For the fifth consecutive year, Hendrix was named one of the country’s “Up and Coming” liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. Hendrix is featured in the 2012 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country’s best 377 colleges, the latest edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges, Forbes magazine's annual list of America's Top 650 Colleges, and the 2013 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit