Learning by being 'on site'

Students journey beyond the campus to broaden their education with Unbridled Learning.

SMU students at the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

By Joy Hart
SMU News

Southern Methodist University students walked on the windy medieval streets of Toledo, Spain, and visited the kitchen where an inner voice instructed Dr. Martin Luther King to continue his fight for justice.

They also stood at the podium where attorneys argue cases before U.S. Supreme Court justices in Washington, D.C., and toured the “line” at Nogales, Arizona, with Border Patrol agents who try to apprehend illegal immigrants.

All of these students and many more have left the campus to participate in what is known at SMU as Unbridled Learning.

“The emphasis is not on getting students off campus,” says Jeremy Adams, associate professor of history, who traveled to Toledo with students during spring break. “It’s getting them on site.”

It’s the difference, Adams stresses, between looking at a slide of a painting and looking at the painting itself.

Visiting a city from the Middle Ages

SMU Adventures in Spain“You have to be there,” says Natalie Boerder, a junior. “When the Spanish court moved to Madrid, Toledo became an unimportant town. It was left alone, and today it still retains its medievalness.”

Most impressive are the examples of art and architecture that show how Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in the city for hundreds of years, Boerder adds. “In no other place have so many cultures lived together so vibrantly and peacefully.”

Doing research in the Library of Congress

Kevin Eaton and 11 other students traveled to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to do research for a class about law, politics and the Supreme Court.

Eaton, a junior, read the Supreme Court justices’ memos and other papers to get “a behind-the-scene” picture of how constitutional law is made.

The research and the opportunity to stand at the podium where lawyers argue cases before the justices confirmed his plan to become a lawyer and argue cases before the Supreme Court, Eaton says. The trip “cemented my plans.”

The manuscript reading room in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress is the only place where these students could have done this kind of original research, says Joe Kobylka, associate professor of political science.

(Read their blog.)

Taking a Civil Rights pilgrimage

SMU Adventures in the SouthRoza Essaw, a sophomore, felt “compelled to evaluate my life in a whole new way” after touring the South with a class studying the Civil Rights movement.

“As an aspiring attorney, I now know that serving the underprivileged is no longer something I should do by choice, but a civic duty.”

Essaw and her classmates gained an “understanding of place” from visiting sites like Central High School where the “Little Rock Nine” were protected from a shouting mob by federal troops, says Dennis Simon, associate professor of history. They also talked to many “keepers of history,” such as Vera Harris, who marched for voting rights in Montgomery, Alabama, and her daughter Dr. Velda Montgomery.

(Read their blog.)

Touring the “line” with Border Patrol agents

“Now I know that it is very naïve to see border issues in black and white,” says Adriana Martinez, a junior who traveled to the border areas of Arizona with SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program in January.

Martinez and seven other students toured the “line” with Border Patrol agents and talked to trackers who hunt drug smugglers and people who run shelters for undocumented workers. “There is no substitute for getting into the field and putting places, faces and stories into the equation when you are trying to analyze difficult issues,” says Patricia Davis, associate director of the human rights program.

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