From investigating environmental law and policy to understanding the inner workings of male-female dynamics, the Benjamin Franklin Scholars grant program has made huge strides in providing new and inventive courses for students.
The BFS course design grants, which started in May of 2011, are awarded to professors to design new courses each year. There are typically four or five courses per school year that touch on four separate categories, according to Director of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars program Peter Struck. These categories include ideas and action, civic community engagement, “green” seminars and theme year courses.
This year the courses being offered, in addition to what is already on the BFS curriculum, include “Writing History in Greece and Rome,” “The Math of Half-Truths” and “Love, Friendship, and Marriage: The Biological Bases of Male-Female Relationships.”
The grants are awarded each academic year to faculty to encourage innovation in the curriculum.
“The grant program is there as a start-up cost,” Struck said. “Once [the faculty member] gets it going it’s their property and we hope they keep it listed in BFS. It helps catalyze new interesting courses.”
Struck emphasized that the grant program provides “fertile ground for people trying out new things and doing experiments in the classroom.” It is intended as a way for teachers to not only explore a variety of subjects but also to interact with one another.
Anthropology professor Eduardo Fernandez-Duque is teaching “Love, Friendship, and Marriage” this semester, a course he believes all students can relate to because they will all be making decisions about these topics at some point in their lives.
He explained his motivation behind participating in the grant program.
“One was that I have never interacted with the Benjamin Franklin students,” Fernandez-Duque said. “I didn’t know about the program and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get in touch with students with different backgrounds. I wanted to give my message — the topics that are of interest to me — to a very wide range of students.”
In his course, Fernandez-Duque is not only exploring areas of research that he is working on but also others that he wishes to move into in the future.
“I also wanted an opportunity where I would be learning from students as much as they learn from me,” Fernandez-Duque said. “I was as much a student in the course as I was a teacher.”
School of Veterinary Medicine professor Alan Kelly, who taught a course on global food security last year in conjunction with fellow Vet School professor James Ferguson, shared a similar sentiment.
“We had … very interesting dialogues and it was interesting for us from the Veterinary School to see how students from other parts of the University addressed this issue of Food Security,” Kelly said. “Half of the class was from the Wharton School and they looked at it from a business perspective.”
The program allows students from all four schools and all grade levels to explore topics that are extremely diverse. It also facilitates interaction between faculty from a variety of fields and schools.
Students have appreciated the new directions that the courses take.
College sophomore Josh Jackson, who is currently taking “The Math of Half-Truths,” appreciates the integration of the content.
“We’re not doing math just to do math, we’re looking at the benefits of making certain decisions,” he said. “We’re only a week in but it already seems like it’s going to be a pretty different math course.”
Wharton sophomore Angela Rice said her profesor really made her “Food in the Islamic Middle East” class come alive, “not only by bringing us delicious food each week, but also by giving us non-traditional assignments like restaurant reviews and interviews so we could engage with the material we read and wrote about.”
Struck stressed that BFS aims to make courses more interactive and creative for students and that the grant program furthers this goal.
“We’re doing what we can to provide faculty with resources that allow them to be as diverse as they can because it’s all in [the] BFS DNA,” Struck said. “It’s a desire on the part of both students and faculty to have new courses, to change up the mix and to find new ways of teaching.”
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