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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflecting on the BIC

Why I Chose the BIC
When I was accepted into Baylor the fall semester of my senior year in high school, Baylor included information about its honor programs in my acceptance packet.  I had been a gifted and talented student ever since I entered first grade; I could not imagine not being in the honors college.  I guess I needed to feel like I was challenging myself academically and associate myself with individuals who also value education.  I now know that my motives for applying to the honors college were wrong.  Students do not need to be a part of the honors college to challenge themselves academically, for most majors push students intellectually.  In addition, every student that enters college values education, not just students that join the honors college.  I also thought that being a part of the honors college would bring merit to my resume as I applied to medical schools.  This was the more practical motive.
            While looking through the different honors programs, I tried to decide which program would best suit me.  Reading information off a website or information packet helps give the basics about programs but does not really provide all the information, yet I based my decisions to join certain honors programs on what I read through those two mediums.  I should have attempted to speak to students in the different honors programs and gotten their opinions on the programs.  I would have probably been more prepared for the BIC if I had done that. 
In the end, I decided that the Great Text program would not be the best fit for me since the copious amounts of reading required intimidated me.  I wanted to do something different from the normal honors program, so I did not apply for the honors program.  However, I applied to be a University Scholar because being able to take a wide range of classes without too many restrictions interested me.  I also applied to join the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core because I thought the classes were interesting and would provide me with a unique experience.  I was right.

Why I Stayed in the BIC
My Fall 2010 course schedule felt very different and empty without any BIC courses.  I missed classes with discussions and that expanded my knowledge of other cultures and philosophies.  This sadness I felt without any BIC courses showed me how much I enjoyed the BIC program and why I stayed in the program.  The other reasons being the BIC’s unique teaching method (field trips, large groups/small groups, and discussions), all the information the BIC had to offer, and the community found amongst all the students.
My first semester in the BIC, I remember the difficulty I encountered with finishing all my readings and assignments.  I thought the BIC would be impossible.  Everyone was always complaining about those New York Times assignments we needed to finish for World of Rhetoric.  World Cultures I had so much reading.  I remember reading Fiero, Plato, and The Ramayana amongst other things.  Even Examined Life had a bunch of reading for each of the five dimensions.  I remember that my first semester in the BIC exposed me to readings that challenged me academically, for reading comprehension has not always been my strongest subject.  I do not think I ever thought about dropping the BIC though.  I was overwhelmed, but the BIC was such an amazing experience that the work was worth it.
            I enjoyed the field trips we took for World Cultures and the books we read because I had never heard of many of them prior to the course.  I always love new experiences and learning about other cultures.  The field trips we took helped the BIC students bond as a group; I know that many students have formed deep relationships with fellow BIC students since they went on field trips together and shared that experience amongst studying for BIC classes together.  In addition, the field trips helped students see in person what they had been reading.  It is very unique to be able to actually experience other cultures and meet as well as talk to people of different cultural backgrounds.
I thought the World of Rhetoric class greatly assisted me in becoming a better writer.  At the beginning of the semester, I was most worried about that class because I am not a very strong writer, but the class taught me so much.  I was so surprised that I made an A in that class both semesters.  The oral assignment we did for World of Rhetoric class also took me out of my comfort zone, for I could not have imagined speaking in front of a class prior to that assignment.  The success I encountered in this class proved that I could surprise myself and overcome any worries that I may have about doing well in the BIC courses.  I just needed to work hard and be determined to do well.
BIC classes challenged me academically.  I am a social work major and most of my classes do not involve much intellectually.  The information the professors teach in social work classes involve practical skills we will need as social workers and statistics.  These courses usually require investments of time and emotions.  I might be crazy to say this, but I actually love the challenge of doing well in my BIC classes and miss studying for my classes and taking tests.  How will I survive without needing to take any tests after graduation?
            The BIC emphasizes discussions in all of its classes.  At the beginning, the focus on discussions scared me because I am usually a very shy individual.  However, I had not realized how much I would enjoy this aspect of the BIC until I experienced it.  I love that students are encouraged to voice their opinions and become, in a way, teachers in each of their courses; students have more responsibility in their classes if they are asked to participate in discussions.  Students also will typically try to be more prepared for classes if the professors expect them to give input into discussion, and they will become more engaged if they are asked to participate.

What I Gained from the BIC
            I learned so much through the BIC.  I would like to say I became a more well rounded student because of the BIC.  If I had not been in the BIC, I would not have had to take any history or English classes because I had received AP credits for all of those classes.  However, fulfilling the BIC requirements for these courses enabled me to gain so much more knowledge.  The AP courses from high school mainly focused on the history of the world and the United States.  If I had accepted the AP course credits instead of joining the BIC, I would have missed out on learning about different religions, cultural practices, and more in-depth history.  The religion classes that Baylor requires only focus on Christianity, so I would not have learned about other religions and visited those places of worship if I was not in the BIC.  I guess I would have learned about different religions if I took a World Religions course, but I would not have also been able to learn about the cultures of different areas of the world.
            The BIC also gave me multiple new experiences.  All the field trips brought me directly to places of worship – a Hindu temple, a synagogue, and a mosque.  I had never been to any of these places of worship prior to the BIC field trips.  We were also encouraged to attend a church of a different faith background in Examined Life.  I probably would never have gone to a Baptist service if the BIC had not encouraged me to attend.  I would have remained unknowledgeable about what occurs at a Baptist service or even that Baptist services differed in style and content from one church to the next.  Many of the BIC classes also required extended learning opportunities, so I experienced many events by completing my extended learning opportunities.  This year alone I attended a discussion by a panel of Chinese human rights lawyers, listened to music from the Middle East, and watched The Mission.  (A side note: I loved this movie!  It has now become one of my favorite movies, and I am buying it for myself as a Christmas present.  I never would have watched this movie if it had not been an extended learning opportunity.)
            One of my favorite classes in BIC was Biblical Heritage and Moral Ethics.  I loved how the professors scheduled the course around certain moral topics, for I loved learning more about the biblical stance on certain moral issues or more like how the Bible might not have a clear stance.  Prior to taking the course, I knew that many moral issues were issues precisely because they resided in that gray area, but I had no actual Biblical evidence.  Now I have Biblical evidence for and against certain moral stances.
In addition, I have enjoyed my World Cultures V class with Dr. Cann.  This class focuses on Argentina and Brazil.  When Dr. Cann asked my class why we decided to take her class, many of us noted that the BIC had not included much information about Latin America.  I actually did not know much about Latin America prior to taking the World Cultures class and still have so much more to learn about it.  I feel like I have a good basic knowledge now though.  One of my favorite aspects of the class includes how the course covered so many different aspects of each country’s culture.  We began the course looking at the colonial history of the countries and moved into different subjects like influential leaders, music, literature, poverty, classes, military dictatorships, soccer, and tango; the course was a whirlwind of information.  I appreciated that we read the entirety of the required books except for two anthologies.  Many BIC students have complained about how the BIC typically only requires students to read parts of the books, so being asked to read the whole book was a nice change.  Of course this was also overwhelming many weeks when we had papers or assignments due on the same week as we needed to read a 300 hundred page book.  The class also gave a nice change in the teaching style.  All the students signed up to teach one aspect of the culture.  Through that assignment, students learned more than just what was included in the readings, for students needed to bring in outside information to present to the class along with summarizing the information from the readings.  Teaching about one of Brazil’s influential leaders encouraged me to learn more about the political system in Brazil and also assisted me in gaining some teaching skills.  Of course, the class also included discussions.  After each student’s presentation, we would further discuss the readings and Dr. Cann would challenge us to think more critically and gave us additional information about the topics especially personal stories.
            Not only did I gain academically from the BIC, but I also gained socially through the program.  I really enjoyed being able to take so many classes with the same students but at the same time being able to meet new students in each and every one of my classes.  In addition, I loved learning from students in different disciplines and how each student brings something new to the table.  My roommate was also in the BIC program, and we took some classes together.  The common experience helped us connect since we would talk about the readings, study together, and edit each other’s papers.

How the BIC Influenced My Choice of Major
            I am not really sure if the BIC influenced my decision to become a social work major.  I began college as a University Scholar in the pre-med program.  My decision to change to social work was not connected to the BIC program – at least I can’t see any connections.  However, the BIC has helped me learn more about cultures, which might have sparked my interest in working with a diverse group of people.  Even though I only have a simple bank of information about other cultures, this little bit of information has assisted me in cultural competency while working with clients and even with normal interactions.

How BIC Capstone Connects Everything
            In the philosophy section of our classes, we have discussed how this course connects all different aspects of the BIC especially Examined Life from freshman year.  Our yoga class has helped us to see how the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, and social aspects of life may all be connected.  Many of my classmates have noted how the physical actions of yoga (all the poses) have helped relieve their little aches and pains; the relief they experience has assisted in their emotional happiness as well.  Everyone just feels happier whenever his or her body feels good.  Yoga also helps emotional health via the yoga sutras, for the sutras help me see life in a different perspective, a better perspective.  In addition, the yoga sutras have helped me personally with my spirituality because yoga helps me with my reflections.  I have rethought my relationship with God by thinking more about what I want my relationship with God to look like.  Lastly, this course has helped me socially because it has invited me into the yoga community.  I can now connect to many more people who have a mutual love for yoga, and our yoga class has connected as friends because of our participation in the class.  The yoga class has always been enjoyable with the conversations we have had and the laughs we have shared.
            In many of our conversations, my classmates and I reminisce about the BIC as a whole and relate some of our readings to readings we have done in previous BIC courses.  I remember talking about the Allegory of the Cave. 
            The yoga class also connects my whole college experience.  As a social work major, I help clients who need assistance in some way whether that means counseling, social service needs, or community development.  One of the assignments in our class was to read 2 memoirs and write blog posts.  I decided to read Waking as one of my memoirs.  As a social work major, I would love to refer disabled clients to a yoga studio (preferably one that specializes in his particular type of yoga) because the fruits of his yoga experience can definitely be translated into more mobility for other disabled individuals and may bring them hope and joy.  This memoir also connected to my personal life because my sister is also paralyzed.  I can relate to some of the author’s experiences at the hospital and identify with his family, and the memoir also helped me to better understand what my sister may be going through as she adjusts to life without mobility in her legs and fingers.
            This class has also represented the importance of balancing all the five dimensions and how I have had to work on finding this balance throughout my college experience.  My life will not be healthy unless all five dimensions are well.  In yoga, each part of the practice influences the five dimensions and works to enhance overall well being.  During college, I have seen how everything impacts the five dimensions.  Whenever I exercise (physical), my body feels better which lifts my mood (emotional); sometimes I pray on runs (spiritual) or study if I am at the SLC (intellectual).  I also will go on walks on the Bear Trail with friends (social).  This yoga class also encouraged me to reflect on my years at Baylor and whether I was satisfied with everything I had done.  Was I happy with how I had interacted with others?  Was I happy with my spiritual life?  Reflecting on these aspects of my life have helped me to improve on my relationships with others and my relationship with God.

What I Gained from BIC Capstone
I loved our BIC Capstone class.  I thought the class was very unique.  Who would have thought there would be a yoga and philosophy class at Baylor?  The course also never seemed overwhelming in course load.  Yet, it was not a blow off class.  We still had regular assignments and papers to write, but these assignments were always manageable.  The blog posts also allowed all of us to interact with each other outside of the classroom and get to know each other even better.  I loved how all the students in our class were so encouraging; through the blogs, we always complimented each other’s abilities and recognized the success of others.
Also, Dr. Schultz was always receptive to what the students wanted to learn and was very fair in her praises as well as corrections.  I always felt like I was learning something new in each class but still had much more I could learn and practice.  Even in our last class, we learned a new pose amongst all our favorite poses.  Class time was never wasted.  We spent the first 15 minutes discussing the philosophy aspect of yoga while the rest of class was devoted to yoga.  We were always encouraged to speak our minds and even sometimes took turns giving an answer to a question.  I loved that discuss was also a part of our yoga class as was expected for a BIC course.
I began the semester in a very sad state.  I was dealing with a tough situation and was not sure what my life would look like this semester.  Part of me did not think that I would ever be ok again.  After the first few classes, I always felt a sense of peace I could not have imagined during that turbulent time.  Yoga helped me to reflect on everything that had happened and how things needed to change.  I saw the importance of changing the way I thought of life and helped me to come to terms with all that had happened.
One question included: Am I happy with my spiritual life?  Not so much.  I think that I can always grow stronger in my faith, and the yoga sutras have taught me all the things that keep me from forming a stronger relationship with God.  These obstacles include disease, inertia, doubt, heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of the senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance, backsliding, sorrow, despair, unsteadiness of the body, and irregular breathing (yoga sutra 1.30 and 1.33).  I knew that there were certain things that distracted me from my relationship with God, but I could never have pinpointed them.  The yoga sutras made it easier for me!  Now I know the aspects of my life I need to work on; some possible methods include cultivating friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain (yoga sutra 1.33).  In addition, now I know the importance of practice and becoming indifferent to pleasure or pain.  Only through those may I begin to have a life focused on God, for practice in the form of prayer and doing everything according to the will of God regardless of whether it means pleasure or pain for me will show true devotion and enable me to draw closer to Him.
I also began reflecting on my relationships with people in my life.  Was I satisfied with my interactions with them?  I realized that I wasn’t.  I had not been the best friend to some individuals.  I had been insecure around them and jealous of their talents, but I should not have been.  I must always remember that God gave everyone different talents.  I needed to find the good in myself and see what God had granted me.  Of course, yoga was not the only reason I began reflecting on my life, but it definitely encouraged me to think more about how I was living.  I am still reflecting on my life and will continue to do so all throughout my life.  I will try to continuously apply the yoga sutras to my life.
I am still healing.  I am still trying to find happiness amidst all the things that have happened this semester.  I have made great memories throughout this semester even though I did not think things would ever get better.  Yoga class has been one of those great highlights of the semester.  I hope to continue practicing yoga after this semester, but I definitely need to have some discipline.  I do not have the best track record in being consistent or disciplined.  However, I need to set aside some time each day to do some yoga.

How BIC Capstone can be Improved
            Let me think about this….how can BIC Capstone be improved…I think next year you should change….NOTHING!!!  This was by far my favorite class of the semester.  I think the class balanced the five dimensions perfectly.  I enjoyed everything we read.  I enjoyed all the poses we learned whether I had the talents for them or not.  I loved the people.  I loved the format.  Everything was great.  I guess the one suggestion would be to offer this capstone every semester so that more people can experience this unique class that combines yoga and philosophy.  Many people have asked me if I enjoyed the class because they were considering taking this course as their capstone, so I know there would be an interest and demand.  However, we have discussed why each capstone topic happens once a year so that more professors have the opportunity to teach capstone.
            Another suggestion, though not necessary, is to have pictures of the poses available.  Sometimes I tried to do poses at home but wasn’t sure whether I was executing the poses correctly.  Maybe students could have pictures taken of them as they execute poses so that they can see whether they are doing the poses correctly.  I do not know if this idea is very practical though.

How BIC can be Improved
            As we discussed in one of our yoga classes, the BIC program is growing.  Dr. Schultz noted that more students are applying to the BIC program early (prior to orientation) now, so the BIC program does not need to depend on recruiting quite as many students during orientation.  However, the BIC program still has a very high dropout rate.  I believe something needs to be done to increase the retention rate of the program.  What is causing students to reconsider their decision to join the BIC?  Maybe the BIC should better inform incoming students about the course load and descriptions of classes, so incoming students will better know what they are getting themselves into.  They will better know whether they feel they can fulfill all of the BIC’s requirements/assignments and whether the BIC really is the best fit for them.  In addition, spreading the courses amongst the 4 years of college might make the course loads more manageable.  The BIC has structured its schedule for the course load to be heavier the first two years of an average college student’s experience while making the last two years a little lighter.  The first two years, students take from 10 to 12 courses, and students would take 1 to 3 courses the last two years.  Students would need to balance transitioning into college and weed-out classes the first semester on top of BIC courses.  This first semester would be overwhelming for freshmen and might be a reason for the huge drop-out rate at the beginning of the BIC curriculum.
            I also think the BIC would benefit from a more uniform utilization of the peer instructors.  I was actually a peer instructor my sophomore year of college for World Cultures I.  Each professor had a different idea of how to use their peer instructors, so I think the peer instructors were sometimes unsure what they needed to do.  I think the peer instructors could have been encouraged to participate in the class in more discussions and been provided with more resources.  The peer instructors were asked to do review sessions, but I think the peer instructors would have benefited from a guide as to what to cover in each of those sessions.  I also think the students would have felt more prepared if they had handouts during review sessions.  I know that some peer instructors created handouts and study guides for their students, so maybe all peer instructors should be required to make these resources or should be provided with these materials to organize their review sessions and also to pass out to their students.  Maybe peer instructors could also be encouraged to work together because multiple minds probably would be more productive.  I know that some of my peer instructors were more invested in their responsibility as peer instructors while others did not do the readings or do office hours.  I think that stricter requirements need to be made of the peer instructors.  They need to do their office hours so that students have a resource and need to do the readings so that they are prepared for class discussions and also for when students ask them questions.  Peer instructors would also have benefited on a little training about how to be the best peer instructor possible; we had a very short meeting at the beginning of the semester, but it did not include very much explanation about how to best do our jobs or the expectations for us.  In addition, maybe BIC students can have an older BIC student separate from their peer instructors guiding them along throughout their BIC experience – someone they can talk to about each of the courses and get advice about how to do the best they can.

            I always love unique situations.  The BIC provides that.  Remember the World Cultures I final?  We made our own test questions and graded each other’s responses.  How much more unique can a program be?  In addition, not many programs plan field trips for their students.  Lastly, no other program on campus integrates literature, religion, and culture into one class.  Now I am a senior social work major graduating in May and hoping to continue on to graduate school.  I would never trade my BIC experience for anything.  It has made my college experience that much more memorable.