The Joys of Learning

Professors throughout Oklahoma believe college fun shouldn’t be limited to parties and sports.

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College is commonly referred to as the best years of a person’s life. Living in a dorm, parties, sporting events and proximity to peers are some of the qualities that make those four years so exciting. Classes, however, don’t normally make the cut.

When discussing the dynamics of a college course, rarely do students use positive adjectives to describe the class. Words like “boring,” “difficult” and “stressful” are commonly uttered by students when discussing their classes with friends. Every so often a course might be deemed “interesting,” but seldom will a college class ever be described as fun or exciting.

But at many colleges throughout Oklahoma, educators are creating courses that flip that theory upside down. A perfect example of this is a course taught at the University of Tulsa’s Chemistry department.

I’ve had students come up to me and say, ‘Symcox, I don’t know what a spatula is. What does it look like?”

For the past nine years, University of Tulsa Professor Keith Symcox has taught a course called The Chemistry of Cooking. In this senior level chemistry class, students dive into the science of cooking by using various chemistry principles to make everything from an angel food cake to a loaf of bread.

The course has become wildly popular among students for obvious reasons.

After cooking, the class will discuss the scientific processes involved.

“And then of course, at the end, we have all this food, so we have to eat it. That right there increases the popularity of the class dramatically,” says Symcox. “The average student puts on a couple of pounds throughout the course of the semester.”

Symcox believes that one of the main lessons students get out of the class is that it shows them that they can apply the things they learn in college to real world systems.

Because of a lack of cooking proficiency, many Americans revert to going out every meal which can lead to serious financial and health issues down the road. “I think it’s great that we get to show these kids that it doesn’t take a lot of skill in the kitchen to make good nutritious food pretty quickly,” says Symcox.

For this reason, Symcox’s course is also a class that students will use for the rest of their lives.

“Some of these kids have really lived sheltered lives,” says Symcox. “I’ve had students come up to me and say, ‘Symcox, I don’t know what a spatula is. What does it look like?’ Someone who doesn’t know what a spatula is, isn’t going to do a lot in the kitchen, in which case they’re pretty much a slave to the restaurant industry for the rest of their lives.”

At the University of Central Oklahoma, music professor Patrick Conlon also instructs fun and exciting courses that have very practical benefits. 

Each year, Conlon teaches a film scoring class that allows students to learn about the intersection of film and music, while also understanding the business aspect of both industries.

When you get out of college there’s often that transition where you’re not a student anymore, but you don’t quite feel like a professional.”

“The feedback from the students has been really great,” said Conlon. “We pair [the course] with a student film festival in the area that happens during the semester, and we usually have at least five or six students score the film for that. So its great that the students get a feel for that process.”

Conlon also instructs a studio recording class where students get the opportunity to imitate their favorite artists and music producers by studying and making music in a studio with the same quality of equipment that professionals use.

“If you don’t go to a school like this, pretty much the only way to get into a studio is you either pay the $150 an hour to rent, in which case you’re probably recording someone else, so you’re not just trying to learn how it works. Or you intern, and you just watch people use it; you’re not allowed to touch it for a year,” said Conlon.

The class is a mix of music training, electrical engineering and everything else that happens in the audio engineering world all tied up into one. And the students absolutely love it.

Conlon’s primary focus in these courses is to make the classes as practical and relevant to the industry as possible.

“When you get out of college there’s often that transition where you’re not a student anymore, but you don’t quite feel like a professional,” he said. “We want it to be, by the time they get out of here, they’re not a student anymore; they’re a professional.”

Additionally, exciting and practical courses are not limited to four-year institutions. Chris Tsotsoros is the director of Continuing Education and Workforce Development at Tulsa Community College, and over the past few years he has helped implement a number of credit and noncredit personal enrichment courses and workforce certification opportunities at the college.

Some of the most popular classes offered are a novel writing course, a course on how to grow your own vegetable garden and a community band and orchestra.

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