UI honors course presents the Green Room event series

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Olivia Sun

A couple walks out of the Englert Theatre on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016.

A University of Iowa Honors course aims to open up the classroom to the Iowa City community through a series of events known as the Green Room, named after the course.

The Green Room will host guest speakers on select Monday nights throughout September and October. These talks will take place at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., and are free and open to the public.

They are centered on topics relevant to the community as well as student interests. Zach Wahls, the first speaker, focused on the issue of housing in Iowa City.

The events are organized entirely by the students in The Green Room Honors course, from the speakers to the lighting and sound checks. For each talk, the course students arrive at 6 p.m. and are invited onstage to talk with that night’s speaker.

At 7 p.m., the doors open to the public for the community to join in the discussion of the night’s topic. Following the event, community members and students have the opportunity to continue the conversation and eat at Merge. Community organizations and local nonprofits relevant to the night’s topic are also in attendance.

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David Gould, the instructor leading the class, said the idea came from the Honors Program’s mission statement, which includes a line about self-discovery.

“One of the missions of the Honors Program is to take the students and help them examine their lives while they’re here,” Gould said. “It’s about asking the eternal questions: What am I meant to do, why do I want to do what I want to do, that kind of thing.”

He taught the first version of the class for the first time in the fall of 2016 semester. The course consisted of 30 students and was structured around questions brought in by students, questions they felt were important or identified with.

“That would become the topic of the night,” he said.

The course was a success, and the Honors Program began looking into how to expand the class so that it could reach more students. However, as Gould pointed out, the increase in size would mean a decrease in flexibility. He knew in order to allow the course to reach more people, they were going to have to redesign the class.

Gould interviewed several Honors students in a focus group setting about their notions of self-discovery and brainstormed how to orchestrate it on a larger scale. He also aimed to expand the course not only to more students but to the community as well.

“The last decade of my life — and possibly my whole professional life — can be summarized in a sentence or two: how to make higher education more meaningful and community engaged,” Gould said. “I used this as a compass in designing this course. I thought, ‘What if we invited the whole city to join us?’ ”

Thus, the Green Room event series was born.

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“It’s a break from the traditional class where you sit in the classroom, watch a presentation, and get talked at,” Green Room TA Shannon Nolan said. “Essentially, it’s the students producing a show every week, like a big group project where everyone puts their handprint on it and has a role each week. The students are able to say, ‘We did this.’ ”

Like Nolan, Kristofer Yambao is a TA for the course and took it last fall before it was redesigned.

“From the viewpoint of a TA, this is version two of the class,” he said. “It’s the epitome of a flipped classroom — we’re opening up the door to the community and saying, ‘This is what we’re learning, come join us, come participate and even challenge us.’ ”

UI sophomore Katy Misel, a student in the Green Room course, appreciates its direction.

“I took this course on the recommendation of someone who took the class last year,” she said. “She gave a good recommendation for the teacher, the things you do, and how it changed her life by helping her figure out what she really wanted to do.”

Gould is unsure whether the event series will continue in connection with the course in future semesters.

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