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SLU Continues Jesuit Mission Through University Core With $250,000 Education Grant

by Jacob Born
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Jacob Born
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Saint Louis University has received a $250,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation, which will allow the university to participate in the “Cornerstone: Learning for Living” initiative.

A joint product of Teagle and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Cornerstone gives schools training and financial support in creating liberal arts education programs.

Harold Braswell, Ph.D., leads a classroom discussion during his Ignite Seminar.

Harold Braswell, Ph.D., leads a discussion during his ignite seminar about passages from Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Photo by Jacob Born. 

With the Teagle Foundation funding, Harold Braswell, Ph.D., associate professor of health care ethics, and Pascale Perraudin, Ph.D., associate professor of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, will lead an innovative new program oriented toward the teaching of “transformative texts” to students across the university and, particularly, those interested in fields related to healthcare and STEM. 

These “transformative texts” are works of literature, art, and philosophy that raise questions students are otherwise unlikely to encounter in their undergraduate career, and at a moment in their lives when they are open to confronting humanistic questions as part of their education.

This new program dedicated to teaching these transformative texts is “Confluence: Where the Sciences Meet the Humanities.” “Confluence” is a four-course, 12-credit-hour curriculum that begins with an Ignite Seminar. Every undergraduate completes an Ignite Seminar during their first year to better understand what makes teaching and learning at SLU distinctive and transformative. 

“I think it’s valuable that incoming students engage with Ignite Seminars right when they come to campus,” Braswell said. “These classes orient them very effectively to the kinds of questions we want them to be asking throughout their college experience and beyond.”

“We want to emphasize that transformative texts come from all over the world and different cultural traditions. We are not focused on a narrowly Western, great books approach,” Perraudin added. “When they enter college, students are eager to learn and reflect about themselves and how they relate to others: transformative texts pique their curiosity and allow students to grow intellectually as they start considering questions from multiple perspectives, starting with Ignite Seminars as a gateway course.”

Following the Ignite Seminar, Confluence students will take three additional courses. At least 50 percent of each course’s reading material will be composed of “transformative texts” — written works with significant meaning — selected by SLU faculty and Ignite Seminar leaders. Once students complete the program, they will receive a certificate recognizing their achievement.

Supported by the Teagle Foundation, “Confluence” enhances the new University core by adding a unique dimension with its emphasis on transformative texts, beginning with the first year Ignite Seminars. Braswell and Perraudin will join efforts with Ellen Crowell, Ph.D., director of SLU University core, and John James, Ph.D., director of Ignite Seminars to launch this program. 

“When I first began my role as director of SLU’s University core, I met with faculty and students from every college and school that offers undergraduate degrees. A constant theme I heard across campus was that students wanted opportunities to explore aspects of their identities that weren't necessarily tied to their majors,” Crowell said. “SLU’s mission is to educate the whole person, and we want our students to be lifelong learners. Engagement with the liberal arts means engaging with the rich complexity of lived human experience, and through Confluence, we can offer that engagement as part of our undergraduate educational mission.” 

Each Confluence course is required to have at least 50 percent of its reading material composed of the transformative texts, which are selected by the Teagle Foundation, SLU faculty members and Ignite Seminar leaders. Through these texts, students and faculty will explore the humanities and how it relates to their lives. 

A copy of Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.
Each ignite seminar class features class readings comprised of 'transformative texts,' or texts that have significant educational value and impact on the readers. Photo by Jacob Born

“These texts speak to fundamental needs of human persons, the needs of the authors writing it and the needs of those reading it,” Braswell said. “Students come to college, and they want a profession, a job, and that’s reasonable. But they’re also very earnest about having personal doubts, questions, anxieties about the world, and these texts speak to that and allow them to come into the classroom, address those areas in a very unique way, and grow as people.” 

During the spring 2023 semester, SLU students had the opportunity to choose between more than 20 Ignite Seminar topics, empowering them to follow their unique passion and to get the most out of each seminar. Similarly, Ignite Seminars give faculty opportunities to teach their passions and to break from the traditional classroom molds. 

“With the new core, there are many opportunities for faculty to teach areas that align with their unique passions and interests,” Crowell said. “One of our goals of the core has been to build a structure that faculty across the University can use to innovate. The Teagle grant is a great example and opportunity to do exactly this. As more faculty engage with this program, the program will become stronger and more sustainable, which is crucial  for creating a lasting impact.”

Launched last fall, SLU’s undergraduate core is an integrated intellectual experience completed by all baccalaureate students, regardless of major, program, college, school or campus. The core is designed to prepare students to be intellectually flexible, creative and reflective critical thinkers in the spirit of the Catholic, Jesuit tradition. 

Heading into its second year of existence, Braswell and Perraudin are currently recruiting instructors who would be interested in teaching Ignite Seminars for Confluence during the 2024-25 academic year, with applications due by October 15. 

Faculty participating in the Ignite Seminars for Confluence will receive a stipend and will be invited to a faculty seminar with Roosevelt Montás, Ph.D., author of Rescuing Socrates. How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter For a New Generation on the SLU campus at the end of February 2024.

“We’re starting to build this community at SLU, and through Confluence, we’re now inviting others to be a part of that community,” Braswell said. “It’s a community of people who are interested in reading great works of literature, philosophy, science and more, and reading them in ways that speak to our problems and experiences today.” 

“Confluence will bridge the gap between faculty and students and encourage discussions that will create mentoring relationships between the two,” Braswell added. “We’ve begun the work and have already had success, and we’re really excited to continue that success and see it grow.” 

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 13,500 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

About Teagle Foundation

The Teagle Foundation works to support and strengthen liberal arts education, which we see as fundamental to meaningful work, effective citizenship, and a fulfilling life. Our aim is to serve as a catalyst for the improvement of teaching and learning in the arts and sciences while addressing issues of financial sustainability and accountability in higher education.