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UNG professors combine classes for a "study-away" trip

Study Away Program
UNG student Kristina Freeman (with book), and students (left to right) Jenna Davidson, Heidi Martin, and Cameron Barker exploring a schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island.

This summer two University of North Georgia (UNG) professors turned their internet honors courses into a pilot four-day “study away” program that allowed students an immersive experience of what they learned online.

Created with funds from a UNG Presidential Summer Incentive Award, Dr. Tanya Bennett, dean of honors, and Jennifer Graff, associate department head of visual arts, merged their two summer honors courses, Multicultural American Literature and Art Appreciation in a unique way.

The trip was a mandatory capstone project for the four students in the two classes. Students were assigned to read the Gloria Naylor book “Mama Day” and produce a 40-slide photo essay to be completed during the trip to Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, which is inhabited by former slaves called Gullah and is where Naylor’s novel is set. The idea was to bring to life the sights, sounds, and scents of the novel's setting for the students—allowing them to connect to the book in a novel way.

“It was an interesting pairing; they were both online courses, but the study-away component really made the class,” Bennett said. “It was Jennifer Graff’s idea — she found that the benefits of a study abroad are replicated in study away, but at a lower cost which opens up the opportunity to students who wouldn’t be able to go overseas to study."

Daufuskie Island is a barrier island between Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, and is accessible only by ferry. During their time there, teachers and students explored the island’s culture by golf cart on a historic and artisan tour, watching how indigo, the island’s main crop, was made into dye for everything from cloth to paint covering the shutters and doors of the island homes to keep ghosts away. They also toured the one-room schoolhouse where Pat Conroy, author of “The Water is Wide” and “The Prince of Tides” got his start teaching.

“The students really got a kick out of the direct connection to the art and the literature. It turned out to be really important to them," Graff said. “The combination of art and literature focused on the creative process, and it opened the students’ minds in a really critical way.”

Before heading home, the group then traveled to Savannah for the students to study the architecture in the downtown area and experience the city's unique atmosphere that served as a backdrop for both fiction and nonfiction books.

“It was really impactful,” Graff said. “It was nice to get the students out from behind a computer and the classroom and let them absorb what it was they were learning.”

Graff plans to present a paper on the trip and the results of the students' interactive adventure at the 2017 SECAC Conference in Columbus, Ohio, in October. SECAC (formerly the Southeastern College Art Conference), a nonprofit organization, promotes the study and practice of visual arts in higher education on a national basis.

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