Clockwise from top left: Catherine Woodward and Liam Olson hike through Ecuador’s Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve. (Photo by Logan March) Students and instructors enjoy a meal made with ingredients they grew themselves for the Food Cultures of Italy FIG. (Courtesy of Nathan Phelps) FIGs director Nathan Phelps in the program’s office. (Photo by Sarah Morton) Adeena Guyton (left) and Alexandria Lazenby participate in a small discussion group for the spring 2016 Ecology of Human Happiness FIG. (Photo by Sarah Morton)
This spring, US News & World Report cited UW-
Madison’s FIGs program as one of 20 “stellar examples” of learning communities at colleges and universities across the country. The relationships built in FIGs are often lasting. A few years ago, freshmen in Harry Brighouse’s Children, Marriage and Families FIG asked the philosophy professor to create a follow-up class they could take as a group of juniors. Brighouse developed the class, called Love, Sex and Friendship. “It’s great seeing how their writing and thinking is improved as juniors. Some came into the FIG minimally connected, and now are fully excited,” Brighouse says. FIGs, Brighouse says, shape better students and stronger teachers. “They get to know a small group of fellow students, not through the dorms or parties or student orgs, but because they are reading and discussing the same academic material,” he says.
When Brighouse began teaching a FIG in 2007, he found that it also challenged him as a teacher. “I’m a better teacher at all levels. It’s driven by seeing how inadequate I was with that first group of FIG students,” he says. “Because of that, I think in terms of how much the students learn and not how much I teach.” Students have seen FIGs influence their academic careers at UW-Madison and beyond. Colin Higgins enrolled in English Professor Lynn Keller’s FIG seminar Nature and Culture: How Humans Interact with the Natural Environment in 2011, thinking he wanted to be an ecologist. But reading an essay by William Cronon, a professor of history, geography and environmental studies, titled “The Trouble with Wilderness,” changed that. “It fundamentally redefined my path and began my interest in geography,” says Higgins. “The depth of experience, covering deep discussions
L&S Annual Review 2015-2016