The Rochester Review, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA
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Over pizza

"So tell me," says Dale McAdam. "Was it 'Quest-y'?"

McAdam, dean for freshmen and professor of clinical and social psychology in the College, sits at a long table littered with cold pizza and diet soda bottles, the din of the Wilson Commons "Pit" at lunch hour a roar to be heard over.

McAdam and his colleagues want to know what students think about the first year of the Quest program, the brand-new category of freshman and sophomore courses designed to introduce students to the ways in which faculty members discover and build knowledge.

Also interested in the progress of the "Q" courses is the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which in a national competition awarded the University a $100,000 grant to develop the program.

To lure busy students to some scheduled focus groups, McAdam uses free pizza as bait. On this day, the pizza has hooked three live ones, all freshman women: Lorna Wright, a genetics major; Megan Block, an art history major; and Marie Colon, who is still considering her field.

Block took "Creative Exhibitions: Exploring Collections," an art history Quest. Wright and Colon both studied "Chemical Principles of Biology," a chemistry Quest.

"At first it seemed like general chemistry," says Wright. "But because the class was small, we bonded. We had lots of interaction--it wasn't just lectures and studying."

Colon "just wanted to try something different," she says. "I enjoyed this class, and I don't think I would have had any pleasure in a straightforward chemistry course. But this was great, even for someone like me who is not a science major."

"Did any of you get inside your professor's mind?" McAdam asks. "These people are the best--what did they help you to see?"

"Well, in the chemistry class, he would help us take the things we were learning and relate them to the outside world," Wright says. "He stressed real-world problem solving. We would work on things like blood-alcohol levels, chemistry questions that might affect us directly. And you could see that he really enjoyed what he was doing. He helped us feel excited about the work, too."

"We met at the Eastman House, talked with lots of curators and photographers, as well as with the professor," Block says of her "Creative Exhibitions" course. "It was definitely 'Quest-y.' We were not simply sitting in a big room just listening, you know. The Eastman staff would actually let us hold original photographs--I held an Ansel Adams."

"You actually touched a print that Ansel Adams produced?" McAdam says incredulously, his ponytailed hair bobbing a little as he sits up in his seat. "You know he did all his own printing? He actually touched that photograph himself."

Block smiles. "I know," she says.

"This program is experimental," McAdam explains as the students grab a second slice of pizza and refill their soda glasses. "So we'll be talking to professors and the students, and we'll be tracking the participants during their careers here to see how they progress.

"We have Quest courses in about 15 different departments--we have students visiting Irondequoit Bay and studying its ecological system, for instance. In economics, Steven Landsburg, a visiting professor, is teaching a Quest on the economic way of thinking. He walked into his class the first day and told everyone to quit worrying; they would all get A's. After an announcement like that, he says, they become interested in the content, not the grade. And that's what they did; they ended up doing A-level work anyway."

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Last updated 11-19-1996      (jc)