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Sunday, May 22, 2022


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Sophomore Scholars in Residence (SSIR) program adds four classes

Starting next fall, sophomore students will have the opportunity to participate in four new SSIR programs, ranging from the study of our global food system to the conservation of public lands.

The four courses to launch next fall are Reading to Live, Social Justice and Social Movements, Eating Locally, Thinking Globally and Protected Lands of the American West. Next year's program additions appeal to a variety of academic and personal interests, said Andy Gurka, director of the SSIR program.

"Our goal is to have an offering that doesn't overlap," he said. "We want to offer a variety of well-rounded opportunities for students in all disciplines."

Reading to Live, an SSIR class that will be taught by French professor Olivier Delers, is designed for students who love to read and talk about books, Gurka said. According to the SSIR website, the class will explore the extent to which fiction can enhance one's understanding of complex political, social and personal issues.

Thad Williamson, associate professor of Leadership Studies, will teach Social Justice and Social Movements. The course centers on the meaning of "social justice" in 21st century society, exploring the theories and concrete problems surrounding this topic.

Eating Locally, Thinking Globally will focus on some of the challenges facing the global food system. Elizabeth Ransom, professor of sociology, will teach this course with Amy Treonis, professor of biology. Both will bring their distinct research programs and professional experiences to the discussion of food issues on a local, national and global scale, Ransom said.

In 2010, Treonis served as a guest lecturer in Ransom's sociology class. Shortly after, the two began discussing the possibility of teaching an interdisciplinary course on food together, Ransom said.

"We both can draw from networks of professionals that are involved with food production," she said, "including agricultural economists, government researchers, farmers and local community organizers."

Protected Lands of the American West is another team-taught SSIR program being offered next year. Todd Lookingbill, professor of biology, said he had realized he wanted to work with geologist David Kitchen during a trip they took to the James River last summer. The class will explore the balance between the seemingly contradictory goals of preservation and the use of natural resources, Lookingbill said.

"Dr. Kitchen and I have both worked in the private sector investigating issues of natural resource damage assessment and energy exploration," he said. "The course will hopefully be of interest to a broad spectrum of studies including business, law, conservation and science."

Unlike most academic classes at Richmond, Lookingbill said the SSIR framework provided the resources to explore applied topics in the classroom and in the field. During Fall Break, his students will study protected lands and national parks throughout Nevada and California, he said.

As the SSIR program has developed since 2009, field trips and international travel have become more prevalent and better funded, Rick Mayes, SSIR faculty director, said.

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"We found that those trips are what really makes students get closer as friends and makes what they're studying in class more interesting and exciting," he said.

In addition to the growing off-campus opportunities, the program's popularity among students has increased as well, Mayes said. Approximately 160 sophomores are involved in the 10 SSIR programs, which is nearly 1/5 of the class, he said.

Ultimately, Mayes said the program was intended for students who were willing build a significant portion of their social life around academics, intellectual discussions and experiential field trips.

"Sophomore year can be one of the most anxious years in college," Mayes said. "If you do one of these programs, you essentially get an extra adviser and faculty mentor while creating social bonds with your peers."

SSIR applications for the coming academic year are due on Feb. 4, 2014. For more information on new and existing programs, visit:

Contact reporter Gaby Calabrese at

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