The Odyssey

Intimate one-hour courses help first-year students become more engaged with the campus community

The Odyssey

Associate Professor Melissa Harshman outlines the steps in making a print to her students before they begin the process.

Photo by: DOT PAUL

Their sheets of paper soaking in a water bath, the students prepare their copper drypoint plates for the printing process. First they clean them with soy sauce (really) and then begin to rub ink onto the plates into which they have inscribed self-portraits.

“Smash it in all over the plates,” Associate Professor of Art Melissa Harshman instructs. “Use the cardboard to push the ink down into the design.”

Once the grooves are filled with ink the students use cheesecloth to remove ink from the rest of the plate. Then one by one they pull their paper out of the water bath and wait in line to run their print through the press.

By the end of class they each have two prints of their work, suitable for framing.

The class, “The Fine Art of Printmaking,” is one of 332 offered this year through the First-Year Odyssey Program, which provides every entering freshman an opportunity to take a seminar course with a tenured or tenure-track faculty member. It is the first year of the program, which was designed as part of UGA’s reaccreditation process last year.

“To be honest, I didn’t know what this was,” admits Zachary Sins, 18, of Woodstock, Ga., as he pushes the ink down into the design on his copper plate.

“All of my other classes were math and science. I needed a break.”

Most of the 15 students in Harshman’s Odyssey course are not going to major in art—and that’s fine with her.

“I hope they really get an appreciation for art and an appreciation of original prints,” Harshman says.

She watches as Sins pulls his print from the press. “You’re Rembrandt,” she tells him.

Zachary Sins checks out his inked plate after it has run through the press.

“I feel like Rembrandt,” he says.

The First-Year Odyssey program has three goals: to introduce new students to the importance of learning and academics, to give them an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with a faculty member, and to introduce first-year students to the missions of the university—teaching, research and service.

Almost 90 percent of the 2011-12 freshman class signed up for Odyssey courses in the fall. That’s what administrators were hoping would happen, says Laura Jolly, vice president for instruction, “because we think it’s powerful in the first semester.”

“If we can get them engaged with a faculty member in a smaller, more intimate class, there will be more dialogue,” she says. “That will help them see the breadth of the faculty and the university.”

Faculty members, including most of the university’s top administrators, proposed their topics for the seminars, with course titles ranging from “How to Talk About the Universe” to “Social Justice and Activism” to “Chickenology.”

Incoming freshmen received a course catalog for the seminars during the summer and then were matched by one of their top 10 choices to the availability of a class. Some chose a subject related to their projected major. Others chose specific professors.

Megan White had met political science Professor Loch Johnson when she was on campus in the spring for scholarship interviews.

“The guest at my dinner table was Dr. Johnson and his wife,” says White, 18, of Alpharetta, who received a Foundation Fellowship. “We spent the evening talking about what I wanted to do in the future.”

When she saw Johnson was teaching a seminar course called “The C.I.A. in War and Peace,” she jumped at the chance to take it. “That’s always seemed like something I’d want to do in the future,” she says.

For one class, Johnson has a C.I.A. analyst come in to talk to the students about his work. For 50 minutes, the students sit at rapt attention, listening to the analyst talk about how he became interested in the C.I.A and it in him—he had spent time in the military and was able to speak several languages.

As an analyst he shares his knowledge and expertise about foreign policy in other parts of the world with top government leaders. “We’re there to help the people you elected do the job they were elected to do,” says the analyst, who is not identified because of the sensitivity of his work.

Students get a feel for international affairs and politics in Johnson’s class, but they also begin to feel comfortable in the kind of small discussion class that is typically limited to third- and fourth-year or graduate students. He also spends time helping them develop their writing and oral advocacy, skills they will need as they move through the upper level courses.

“I’ve got them writing already. There are some students who go through UGA and never have to write a paper,” Johnson says. “By the time they get to upper level courses they have self confidence about speaking. If you can’t write and express yourself orally, you can’t succeed.”

Professor Loch Johnson tells the students about the C.I.A. analyst who is visiting their class that day.

The first-year students in Associate Professor Marisa Pagnattaro’s class get a head start on teamwork and developing presentations. In “Managing the Dragon: The Challenges of Doing Business in China,” students select an American company that is doing business in China and research the obstacles it faces there.

Apple, for example, is prevalent in Chinese metropolitan areas. But as the students learn, many of the Apple stores are not real, but knock-off stores. They sell products that look like they’re made by Apple but are of a lower quality.

“If you’re Apple, how do you deal with that?” asks Pagnattaro, who teaches legal studies in the Terry College of Business. “It’s a tricky issue. If you shut them down, people are out of work.”

Another American company to move into China in recent years is Google, which at first complied with government regulations and censored information provided on its web site. Google later announced it would redirect Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong. Despite its popularity in the rest of the world, Google is not the most-used search engine in China. That title belongs to Baidu, a Chinese-run company that follows the government’s rules on censorship.

Teaching the 16 first-year students has been eye-opening, Pagnattaro says. Unlike her older students, these are nervous not knowing what to expect during their first semester in college. To help them, she brings in a research librarian to explain how to access the resources available through the UGA Libraries, and members of the Mock Trial Team to provide pointers for their presentations.

She also shares with them some of her research and talks about the trips she takes to China with MBA students.

“They didn’t have any idea of what (faculty) do,” Pagnattaro says. “Now they can understand the connection between research and teaching and why the two are important.”

William Kisaalita, an engineering professor, takes students a step further in his Odyssey class “Things You Can (or Should Not) Do to End Poverty.” In the class students look at the issues of poverty and arguments for and against programs that lift people out of poverty.

To get the students to think about poverty on a personal level, he has them complete a hands-on field exercise that requires them to get out of their comfort zones. Students choose one of three options: Pretend to be a homeless person and solicit money from strangers on the street for an hour, eat lunch in a local soup kitchen or live on just $3-5 a day for three days. The students are required to explain in writing what they plan to do and their expected outcome. Afterward, each must write a reflective essay on the exercise.

“What I want for you is to have a sense of being on the other side,” Kisaalita tells the class.

As part of a class exercise, Monica Glosson, left, and Sara Lynn Been pose as poor people who need money in downtown Athens.

Sara Lynn Been of Atlanta and Monica Glosson of Gainseville elect to pose as homeless people and solicit money. On a warm Sunday afternoon in October, wearing jeans and T-shirts, without makeup or jewelry, they sit down on a blanket on the Clayton Street sidewalk in front of Junkman’s Daughter and hold a sign that reads, “Help please.”

For an hour they wait, watching as people pass, some crossing the street before reaching them in order to avoid any contact. Some look curiously at the young women as they pass slowly, reading the sign. After about 45 minutes a young man bends down and drops change into the plastic lid of a can of peanuts. The donation, almost $2, is the only one they receive.

“We were at first surprised,” says Been. “Then we realized we probably wouldn’t have stopped either. I was expecting to be observing other people’s actions, but I was really observing more of my own feelings.”

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Learn more about the First-Year Odyssey Program at