What’s the big idea?

Alissa Ricci

It is a Monday night in mid-September, only a few weeks into the school year, and a group of some 30-odd students are comfortably assembled on the couches and chairs in the living room-style basement of Good Counsel Hall, waiting to hear an ACS professor speak about some “big ideas.” These students have managed to escape from the hustle and bustle of student life for an hour of discussion and relaxation. What’s going on? It is the premiere of the Augustine and Culture Seminar’s “What’s the Big Idea?” symposium series, a new opportunity for freshmen and any other interested students to convene in a non-classroom setting and discuss topics relevant to their lives as college students and beyond with one of six different ACS professors. On that night, Dr. Tim Horner led the discussion, and he began the conversation by reading a passage from a short story by Flannery O’Connor called “The Lame Shall Enter First.” He then proceeded to engage the students in a discussion relating the story to how it changed his thinking and way of looking at the world. Horner, who currently teaches two ACS classes, explains that the inspiration for “What’s the Big Idea?” began a few years back, when South Campus became the primary home for the majority of the freshman class. A freshman’s housing assignment, and in some cases, their learning community, directly corresponds to their Augustine and Culture Seminar class. Students are housed in the same residence halls as their ACS classmates to help connect the members of the freshman class. The other reason for housing students this way is to encourage discussions in the halls about ideas presented in class and to create a shared academic experience. This year, this idea went one step further with the new symposium series. Horner explains that the goal of the new ACS symposium series is to “integrate learning and living and connect the classroom to the dorm.” This program allows professors to share their personal experiences and facilitate discussion among students about the connection between the life of the mind and the lives they actually lead. What makes the ACS symposium series different from other events on campus is that the nature of the program is discussion oriented and is not meant to be a lecture.Instead, students are encouraged to participate in a casual, comfortable environment. It is held in the basement of Good Counsel Hall, an area previously closed off to students. This space was picked because of its availability and its comfortable features, such as the stuffed couches, chairs, and other homey furniture. This area has been renamed the “Lounge B.I.G.” for the duration of the symposium series. The name “Lounge B.I.G.” stems from a bit of pop culture – a play on the name of a famous rapper who died in the 1990s and whom students may be familiar be with: The Notorious B.I.G. “[Horner] was very interactive and engaging; I felt it was well worth my time,” freshman Kristen Gordon says. “It was different from what I thought it would be, and the discussion got me thinking about how what [Horner] said related to my own life,” Laura Pichardo says.The ACS symposium series is open to all students, not just freshmen. There will be four more symposiums, each one hosted by a different ACS professor. The last session featured a discussion of humor by John-Paul Spiro. Upcoming speakers include Liam Kavanagh, who will speak on music, and Dr. Rachel Baard, who will speak about her experiences growing up during South African apartheid. Best of all, it’s free and food is provided at each event. Also, freshman students can attend any one of the symposiums as credit for a cultural event. The next symposium will be hosted by Peter Busch in the Lounge B.I.G. from 7-8 p.m. on Oct. 11.