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On Monday, Kim Coplin ’85 addressed the first batch of June-O students to come to campus this summer. This is the first of five sessions this month, as the program celebrates its 40th anniversary.
In a presentation titled “Your Denison Education: Ready, Set, Transform,” Coplin, who is associate provost and associate professor of physics, drew from Denison’s mission statement to talk about the critical importance of the liberal arts and “the transformative power of education.”
“Change happens,” Coplin told members of the Class of 2015, “but transformation is intentional. The next four years should be a time to focus on who you are, versus who you want to become.”
Or, as June-O student staffer Alison Kranek ’11 put it, this is a time to transform from a rising first-year student to a “rising adult.”
Here are five things Coplin believes every incoming student should know:
No. 1: Don’t try to hide in a small classroom. With students in classrooms usually only numbering in the teens, it would be difficult to choose a seat in the back and nap through class anyway. “You need to engage in the curriculum,” said Coplin, who stressed that it is the student who makes or breaks his or her own college experience. “Ask questions. Participate!”
No. 2: Get to know your teachers. “The student-faculty relationship is at the heart of what we do here at Denison,” said Coplin. She showed a slide of the painting School of Athens by Raphael, with the famous mentor-mentee duo of Plato and Aristotle mid-debate, and then she compared it to photographs taken around campus. Here was a creative writing professor engaging a student in class, there was another professor talking with a student on quad. “Faculty help students to ask the right questions,” said Coplin. “From there, it is up to the student to realize that there can be more than one answer.”
Number 3: Cultivate a Cheers-like res hall environment. Where everybody knows your name! That is the College’s goal in setting up res hall living for students—creating a smaller yet equally welcoming community within the larger Denison world. Maybe even more important is this, said Coplin: “You have to realize that you’re not always going to love everyone, but you have to get along.”
Number 4: Take a dance class. Or an astronomy course. Give painting a go, or try an intramural sport. The point is to “give new and different things a chance.”
Number 5: Recognize your own ignorance. After encouraging students to “accept the challenge of their Denison education,” Coplin wrapped up her address with a reminder that this education doesn’t end with graduation. “Liberal Arts education is not something any of us ever achieves,” she quoted from American Higher Education Transformed. “It is a way of living in the face of our own ignorance… A way of educating ourselves without any illusions that our education will ever be complete.”
The presentation ended and the students and parents trickled back out into the June sunlight to enjoy a spare 10 minutes before the next orientation session. They might not have noticed, but the transformation had already begun.