Gateways: passageway to university life

Some aspects of life are just predictable. April showers bring May flowers. Mayflowers bring pilgrims. August brings new students. New John Brown University students take Gateway.

But these Gateway classes are far from predictable.

Jake Stratman, assistant professor of English, teaches one of the Gateway options for this fall, focusing on disability fiction. Stratman’s students will be reading a variety of books written by Schneider Family Book Award winners. His goal in this is to integrate not just faith and learning but whole-person learning through pedagogical strategies.

His students will be introduced to theories about disabilities, Stratman said. Students will struggle through questions such as “What is disability?” and “Who defines it?”. Journaling assignments allow students to reflect on theses questions, personal experience and biblical text through journaling assignments.

Lastly, students in Stratman’s class will experience community engagement with the local foundation AbilityTree.

“There is a clear distinction here between engagement and service. This is not service,” Stratman said. Rather, he wants this to be an opportunity for students to meet and get to know families with a disabled member and interact with their kids through after school programs, art ability programs, and a monthly recess program.

Austin Robertson, director of retention, is taking a more experiential approach to Gateway with his class, “Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation.” Students will read “Kingdom Come” by Allen Wakabayashi and learning how to look for ways to heal the world both globally and locally.

Robertson recently participated in the World Race, an 11 month mission trip in eleven different countries. By combining this experience and the wisdom from Wakabayashi’s book, Robertson plans to pass what he has learned on to his students.

“I want to help them see and better understand the continuous need for Christ-followers to be ministering on a local and global level, for the purpose of being a part of Christ’s redemptive work in every part of creation,” Robertson said.

One of their first assignments for the class is to go out into the community and find a person who is “not their type.” This simply means approaching someone outside their religious, social, political realm and learning about their life. They will then write about their experience expanding their comfort zone. Additionally, as a class, they will choose a service project to do together, starting world healing on a local level.

Robertson’s students also complete daily projects entitled “Put a Face to It.” Even while reading Ostrander, students are learning about world events, tragedies, and areas of injustice by putting a face to them and discussing them as a class.

Popular literature can also be a theme of a Gateway class, such as one on Harry Potter with Tracy Balzer, director of Christian formation. Balzer’s class will be reading through “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first book of the series. Through their readings, they will be discussing the various theological themes of redemption portrayed by the different characters and familial structures.

As part of their curriculum, students will be choosing a character from the book to study. They will look at all aspects of his or her persona, how it affects other characters, and how it impacts the overall theme and plot, as well as any significance that particular character has to the subject of redemption.

“We clearly have enjoyable material to work with, but this is a class that I see a lot of spiritual ‘aha’ moments in my students. It’s a really creative and beautiful experience to elevate a pop culture book in this way,” Balzer said.

As a special activity, Balzer’s Gateway students will be staging a Quiddich tournament on the quad at some point during the semester.

These Gateway classes, and many more, are the backbone of new student transition to the University and are a healthy and fun way to start out their journey here.