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ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — Textbooks, PowerPoints, lectures and heavy reading for homework — the staples of many college classes. But for St. Bonaventure University students in a special section of World Views, their classroom essentials balanced on a different set of staples — ones provided mainly from a community outside the Bonaventure Bubble.
Dr. David Hilmey’s Clare 208 class — a core-area course every SBU student takes — focused on the social issue of health and medicine, with a particular emphasis on the Seneca Nation’s relationship with health and medicine. For a keen understanding of their views and practices, Hilmey decided not to simply lecture out of a textbook but rather take his class into the Seneca Nation.
“We were actually learning through going out and interacting with members of the community. In this case, we were working with some of the Seneca Nation. The partners who we were working with were from the Faithkeepers School,” said Hilmey, an assistant professor of chemistry. The Faithkeepers School in Steamburg, about 30 miles west of campus, was founded by Lehman “Dar” and Sandy Dowdy and teaches aspects of the Seneca culture, with a notable emphasis on the salvation of the Seneca language. Lehman Dowdy died this past summer.
“It started out as a class focusing on how Native Americans approach health and medicine … (to) look at it from a world view at how they approach health and how they approach medicine,” Hilmey said. “(But) it became about how culturally different we are from the Senecas, and to understand health and medicine from a different perspective requires a more global understanding of their culture.”
Hilmey said that throughout the semester, he and the class took about seven trips to the Faithkeepers School to engage in lectures with their teachers and have his students do poster presentations.
Additionally, the class attended a lecture from Edward Gray, a Mohawk medicine man, which focused on how he views medicine. For a final project, the class gave presentations to Salamanca High School science classes on American Indian medicine and the scientific method. Topics ranged from sweat lodges to ginseng.
Hilmey said making community-based learning, rather than the traditional reading and writing approach, serve as the backbone of his course offered students a rewarding learning experience.
“The impact that these hands-on sessions provided were, in my opinion, so profound that there wasn’t a need to do more work. It did the job itself,” Hilmey said. “The lessons they learned were something they didn’t need to get from a text.”
Hilmey also said that interaction with members of the Faithkeepers School was key in achieving the goal of Clare 208. He praised Faithkeepers teacher Steve Gordon for everything he did to accommodate his class.
“It was … the ideal way to obtain a world view because we were not reading about them, were not watching a video about them — we were speaking with them and learning from them,” Hilmey said. “Part of the learning process is about making mistakes and not knowing what you’re talking about, and we got to see that … we realized how little we knew about their culture and about them.”
Alaina Collins, a senior biology major, took the class and agreed with Hilmey.
“It allowed you to actually interact with the culture rather than just read or be told about it, which then allowed you to get a deeper understanding and develop a personal connection,” she said. “I think it was actually a lot more effective. … We met with the Faithkeepers and we had them teach us verbally (rather) than read background and history. We learned more through them telling us stories about their tradition, and then afterwards as a class, we would discuss what we learned and how it compared to our culture and our personal views.”
Collins said the class was different from other Bonaventure classes she’s taken because of its openness to take things as they came.
“Things didn’t always go as planned and it made things more exciting, as well as more of a reality,” Collins said. “I think I’ll remember it (this class) for a longer period of time and I’ll actually practice the life lessons learned.”
Hilmey believes his section was successful and hopes to offer the course again in the future.
“When it becomes not about the grade, it becomes about the learning process … as a teacher, that’s what I want to see,” Hilmey said. “I’ve just never seen students become that invested in a class. To me, that was what struck me. They all ended up coming to a greater learning experience.”
The class was supported by a community-based learning grant from the Center for Community Engagement at St. Bonaventure, Hilmey said.
About the University: Inspired for more than 150 years by the Catholic Franciscan values of individual dignity, community inclusiveness, and service, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them
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