Students live their lessons in Theresa Dougal's "Sustainable Communities: Living and Learning for the Future" class. Photos by John Kish IV

Living and Learning: inside the HILL

The students in Room 410 of the HILL seem like most others. In the minutes before their 10:20 class, they talk about band practice, cell phone messages, and sleep loss—Amp Energy drink and Gatorade in hand.

But soon it becomes clear that something different is going on here. "Americans are famously individualistic," begins Professor Theresa Dougal. "How might this be detrimental to the self and the environment? ... Who would like to read what they have written in response to the suggested readings for today?" Faces brighten and the talk turns to voluntary simplicity, the importance of community, and the role of government, as students read passages from their most recent writings. Professor Dougal adeptly guides the conversation, weaving in references to Thoreau and Emerson and reminding the class that, ultimately, "we are looking for concrete ways to create a sustainable community."

It's exactly what these students signed up for. As one of two Living and Learning classes offered at Moravian for the first time this semester, "Sustainable Communities: Living and Learning for the Future" is unique, as are its sixteen first-year students.

"They are experiencing the way a liberal arts education can contribute to a sense of civic responsibility."

The new course combines the required Writing 100 and Introduction to College Life (ICL) into a single class based on a special interest topic. Because the students all live together in one of the new 16-bedroom residential suites inside the HILL (Hurd Integrated Living and Learning complex), they also learn together outside the classroom, where they discuss material, coordinate study times, and plan related activities. "I've found that I focus better here than I can at home," said Katie Campbell '13. "Living together gives you a sense of family and community, which you might otherwise miss as a freshman. I love it."

Dougal, professor and chair of English (who has also taught Writing 100 and ICL), chose sustainability for the class's theme—not only because of her personal interest and knowledge of the topic, but also because it is so timely. "The topic is so important and relevant now," she said. "In many ways, this is like a current events class. The students all applied to be here, so they are very motivated. Their interests and efforts have led to very thoughtful discussions and writings."

Besides learning to think and write clearly, the students learn about college life at Moravian through guest speakers, whose talks Dougal works seamlessly into the class's framework. A visit from a career center representative will involve a reading of a Thoreau essay about choosing a principled life; learning about Moravian's international studies program will include a discussion of global environmental initiatives.

Other class-related activities involve raising awareness and community service. The students have brainstormed possible projects such as organizing a day to promote walking, teaching about sustainability to elementary school students, and creating art from recycled materials. "Because they are a living-learning community, I encourage off-campus activities, as well," said Dougal. "My hope is that they will channel their ideas into actions that will carry over into their lives beyond Moravian. As a group, they really could make a difference. They are experiencing the way a liberal arts education can contribute to a sense of civic responsibility."