For many at Curry, Brown College is the beautiful view they enjoy from offices in Bavaro Hall. Brown College sits up on Monroe Hill just across Emmet Street from the Curry School. It is a residential community of undergraduate students enrolled at the University of Virginia.
However, a recent appointment of a Curry faculty member as Director of Studies and a Curry faculty member as Resident Scholar has connected these two schools in a new way.
As Director of Studies, Stephen Plaskon, Associate Professor of Curriculum, Instruction & Special Education at the Curry School, is responsible for designing programs for the 300 students at Brown College and encouraging the College’s Faculty Fellows’ involvement in special courses and events.
In addition to their normal coursework as students at a variety of schools at the University of Virginia, including the College of Arts & Sciences, the Engineering School, the School of Architecture, Nursing, and even the Curry School, these students participate in lectures, seminars, workshops and other academic experiences in a wide variety of content areas. Brown residents also are given opportunities for involvement in the local community and in University-wide events. It is Plaskon’s job to involve the faculty and students, manage the schedule and the implementation of these events.
“Many of these experiences are student-led,” said Plaskon. “For example, we give Brown Residents an opportunity to teach short courses for each other. These students become teachers, creating syllabi, developing lesson plans, and selecting assessments. It is a great opportunity for me to bring my expertise in teacher-preparation to these students as they learn to plan, implement, and manage instruction.”
A special perk of serving as Director of Studies is where one gets to reside while serving. Plaskon and his wife have settled nicely into the James Monroe Law Office, an original part of the home of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States and namesake of Monroe Hill. Mr. Monroe’s Law Office serves as both a residence and location for student and faculty gatherings and events.
Plaskon and his wife have come to understand the required hospitality living in such a place.
“There is almost always something going on here on Monroe Hill and at the Law Office. Students, faculty, and visiting scholars have an open invitation to use the Reading Room and Law Office and to join us at any event we’ve planned. It is a joy to be able to share this very historic space with them. ”
Curry Assistant Professor Heather Wathington has also found a unique way to combine her academic interests with her role as resident scholar at Brown College.
“I study undergraduates. That is my area of interest as a faculty member at the Curry School,” said Wathington. “Historically my research has taken place in other places. But now I have this opportunity: to engage the students at Brown about their experiences as undergraduate students.”
An added benefit to Wathington serving as residential scholar is her ability to expose the breadth of what education is.
“Many undergraduate students see the Curry School as simply a place to train to be a teacher. Their perspective changes dramatically when I share with them the work I do.”
As she engages students, she asks them questions that encourage them to think about their learning experiences. These questions include “What does it mean to be an educated person? What is it about Brown that is unique? Can a living/learning community advance learning? What does the process of education mean?”
In introducing Brown students to the perspectives and field of education, these students see their own experiences through a new lens.
Brown College also enlists 65 faculty fellows from schools across the University. For many years, Curry Professor Peter Sheras has served as a faculty fellow. These fellows enjoy a meal with Brown students at least once per month and once per semester lead some type of program: field trip, symposium, or lecture.
As the Curry School is set to expand its undergraduate population by 300 students over the next five years, these faculty members’ experiences with these exceptional undergraduate students will certainly serve as a resource for others at the Curry School.
In the meantime, as the Curry community gazes across the street at the beautiful grounds of Brown College, it will have a deeper sense of connection to its long-time neighbor.