In 1980, LSA held its first Theme Semester at the University of Michigan in hopes of providing students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a specific topic through classes and extracurricular events such as museum exhibits and theater performances.
Past topics have covered a broad range of subjects from “Water” in Winter 2011 to “The Possible Futures of U-M” in Fall 2017, themes selected through the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education.
However, following a busy year with the University’s Bicentennial, there is no theme this semester.
“We do not have a theme semester every semester, or even every year; the frequency depends on the number of proposals we received at any given time,” Angela Dillard, LSA Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, wrote in an email interview. Dillard will be soliciting proposals for Fall 2018 from the LSA faculty later this month.
“Currently I am aware of two ideas that are floating around — one on Design, and the other on the Great Lakes. But neither has been formally submitted yet for consideration,” Dillard wrote. “As you can see the best ideas are very broad and interdisciplinary in nature, often timely and always designed to showcase the strengths of the LSA faculty, students and staff members involved.”
While Dillard said many people are involved in the process of proposals, anthropology professor Lisa Young, who taught a theme class, said that is precisely why themes take so much time and energy –– resources that were lacking this semester.
“The proposal information, because it’s really a group of people in the University of Michigan, come up with a theme, then put activities andresources together around that theme,” Young said. “So, they take a lot of time. I know Amy Harris at the Natural History Museum has been involved in several of them and they’ve been wonderful, and they’ve been a wonderful way to get exhibits and get people into the museum, but I do know it takes a lot of energy with a very, very small staff.”
Kinesiology senior Jacqueline Katz took a course in the Asian Studies department last winter under the theme, “The Making of the University of Michigan.”
“The structure of it was pretty closed but pretty relaxed atmosphere,” Katz said. “Each week a group of students were assigned a certain topic in Asian history that somehow influenced the students at the University, and they had to present a PowerPoint presentation about it to the class. So, half the class was taught with presentations. Then we would discuss it with professors, after which was really interesting and kind of a cool way to learn about it.”
Young’s course was titled “The Future of Food at the University of Michigan.” As it was a theme class, Young received a grant and was able to partner with University dining. One of her students’ projects involved researching what kind of food Michigan students were eating 100 years ago. Young and her students picked foods from a banquet menu which was then cooked for them by the South Quad Residence Hall chefs, which created a more meaningful experience for students.
“Because there’s a lot of things happening on campus and there’s resources to support those things, it helps to make a teaching environment much richer,” Young said. “As long as you know what’s going on on campus, you can build those into the class.”