Teaching Outside the Box
SU faculty members find innovative ways to engage students in their subject matter, both in and out of the classroom
A self-proclaimed Food Network junkie, Tobin lists a variety of reasons for developing a science class based on food. First of all, food isn’t scary. In fact, she says, “It’s fun to play with your food.”
Then there’s the obvious relevance to students’ lives and the fact that all their physical senses are involved in the learning process. Food and cooking are natural interdisciplinary topics, too. “[They] can be used to introduce historical, religious, political and ethical topics quite easily,” Tobin says.
And finally, she says, “Following, evaluating and then improving upon a recipe teaches critical thinking, scientific reasoning and even math.”
Students in this course learn about the underlying science in the production and consumption of food products and apply that knowledge—and the scientific method—to design and improve recipes while cooking and eating the food. For example, students learn every step of the chocolate production cycle, from the cacao tree to the table. They explore the physiology and biology of taste, and discuss the global impacts of chocolate production, including free trade and organic-growing practices. Next, they examine the science that underlies the ingredients in a typical brownie mix. As the students cook the brownies, they observe how the brownies change chemically and physically during each step of the process.
Ultimately, understanding the science of food requires that “students investigate not only its basic biological and chemical components, but also the nutritional values of its ingredients and the ways in which food handling, processing and cooking impact those values,” Tobin says. In the end, she hopes the class will help students make informed and ethical decisions about the food they eat and the methods used to prepare those foods.
PROFESSOR OF ACCOUNTING Richard Davis spices up a class that, on the surface, could be hopelessly dry. Since 1995, students in his Legal Environment class have witnessed firsthand the consequences of unethical business decisions.
White-collar criminals from the federal prison camp at the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pa., visit campus to describe the transgressions that plunged them into financial ruin and landed them behind bars. Their stories serve as red flags for business majors who may someday face the temptation of unethical business practices. And because stories alone may not be compelling enough, Davis also takes the students to the penitentiary to visit the inmates.
“When students have a chance to actually set foot in a penitentiary, talk to white-collar criminals and see their prison cells, it tends to stick with them,” Davis says. “Students remember this trip more than any other part of the course, and alumni repeatedly say it was a great experience.”
Among the convicted white-collar criminals alumni may remember are Fred Dellorfano Jr. and Al Porro, who made regular appearances on campus through the years, some even after they were released from prison.
Dellorfano was introduced to the Susquehanna community in 1998 while serving a 110-month sentence for bank fraud and racketeering conspiracy. A successful tax attorney in the Boston area, Dellorfano fell from grace in the late 1980s and spent most of the following decade in prison.