Special Projects Week gave students a chance to learn about specialized topics that interest them.
At the start of the spring semester, the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts (LSMSA) hosts Special Projects Week, which provides students an opportunity to engage in topics that most interest them. The projects are offered by faculty members outside of the parameters of a typical class structure, and they focus on topics pertaining to careers, areas of interest and practical life skills.
This year, special projects topics encompassed unique historical, fictional, cultural and societal subjects. They spanned, but were not limited to, The Beatles, the space race, mourning culture, Creole culture, Mozart, the history of AIDs, time travel, and bioethics.
Several projects provided hands-on and interactive lessons for students. For example, in the “Satire Matters” special project, developed by Associate Lecturer of English Jocelyn Donlon, students explored famous related texts and worked collaboratively to create a satirical newsletter. The “Dissecting and Performing ‘Whose Line?’” project, led by Instructor of Theatre Scott Theriot, taught students how to successfully execute improvisational skits. Project participants held a performance for peers at the end of Special Projects Week.
Other distinct and interactive projects included an exploration into family genealogies and a crash course in advanced coding and programming. In “Reducing Stress by Playing Games,” students learned methods of decompressing and recharging in-between heavy coursework. The class was led by Associate Lecturer of Chemistry Stephen Costin, who developed the class as a response to society’s growing dependence on technology for entertainment.
“The design of my project was to get students off their electronic devices, where they can easily lose hours of time without a lot of conscious decision-making, and instead utilize board games as a more time-controlled option for study breaks,” explained Costin. “In addition, we talked about things like conflict resolution, de-escalation techniques, and assertive language, as well as meditation, habit analysis, and taking conscious ownership of how they are using their time.”
Enrichment opportunities outside of the Natchitoches area were integrated in some projects. The Community Service class, led by Senior Lecturer of Mathematics Mike McGrath and former Lecturer of Computer Science David Zolzer, travelled to Alexandria to serve meals at the Manna House soup kitchen, walk dogs with Happy Tails Dog Walkers and pack boxes at the city’s food bank.
Students in the “Inside the Animal Mind project were able to take a trip to the Alexandria Zoo and put what they had learned to work in the physical world.
“During the course, we read and discussed the evidence for high levels of cognition and self-awareness in our vertebrate relatives,” said Lecturer of Biology Margaret Hodge, who led the project. “During our visit to the zoo, we observed the animals and reflected on how what we learned may inform us about their lives.”
Students in Instructor of Latin Morris Tichenor’s “Bibliophile” project travelled to Louisiana State University in Shreveport to explore the James Smith Noel collection of antiquarian books. Their tour was led by Director Martha Lawler and Cataloguer Tyler Cunningham.
“We're lucky to be situated so close to the James Smith Noel Collection at LSU-Shreveport,” said Tichenor. “This amazing library, the largest private collection of antiquarian books in the United States, served as a capstone to the course. Some of the students were really excited to hold a signed, first-edition copy of Upton Sinclair's ‘The Jungle.’”
Out-of-state trips to Arkansas and Oklahoma included opportunities to explore passions and careers in engineering and art. The “Art Adventure to Crystal Bridges Museum,” led by Lecturer of Visual Arts Chris King and Instructor of Visual Arts Marcus Journey, allowed students to travel to Arkansas and observe works by Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, and other renowned artists. Students in the “Exploring Engineering through the Oil and Gas Industry” special project travelled to Oklahoma to take part in training exercises and simulations at an oilfield company. The project was facilitated by Instructor of Chemistry Christina Hillesheim and Associate Lecturer of Mathematics Randy Key.
“My favorite part was getting to talk to engineers about their careers,” said Casey Tonnies (’19), who attended the Oklahoma trip. “Learning about their first-hand experience was helpful to me because I want to study engineering in college.”
This year, a unique travel opportunity to Japan was available. A group of 72 students, parents, and chaperones visited Japan to learn about the history, culture, and technology of the region. The group ventured to Tokyo, Osaka, Hikone, and Nara, during the trip and also travelled by shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto.
“I had never been outside of the United States before,” said Colby Alexander (’19). “My favorite part of the trip was the stay in Tokyo. There was so much to do at any time of the day. I enjoyed the trip as a whole and I am glad I was able to go.
“I like Special Projects Week because it is a time for students to take a break from the challenges of life at LSMSA and enjoy free time before going back to class.”