Kelsey Bennett, Ph.D.

Kelsey Bennett, Ph.D.

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For Honors Program Director Kelsey Bennett, Ph.D., there is an invaluable moment in teaching: the “aha” instance of recognition and connection.

“[It happens] when we’re really delving deeply into a question or a set of problems and maybe we don’t exactly know what the right answer’s going to be. Sometimes, it’s as a group. We come to this conclusion that we didn’t have before,” Bennett said. “But sometimes it’s individually watching a student…you see that lightbulb go on and that, to me, is priceless,” she said.

Bennett, who is in her seventh year at Western, often has the opportunity to watch that growth firsthand in her seminar-style classes.

“I really enjoy the seminar style…the Socratic style. The professor starts off with a question and opens up the class with that and they [the students] take it in the direction they want to. There’s a lot of student autonomy there. There’s a lot of risk-taking involved in that where people have to…formulate what they’re thinking about something and listening to other people and have that interchange,” she said.

This method of learning is a hallmark of the Honors Program, which draws students from various academic backgrounds across campus. These different perspectives are integral to the experience of the Honors courses, according to Bennett.

“I enjoy the interdisciplinary classes that we have. When people come to the table, we have perspectives from all different majors. We’re looking at a topic and the art major over here is weighing in and the business major has something else to say and the biology major has something else to say and that makes those conversations very rich and engaging,” Bennett said.

With a background in literary studies and English, Bennett understands the importance of incorporating different viewpoints to help tell the different sides of a story. It’s also something she values through her collaboration with individuals at Western.

“Literature itself really does touch on all aspects of life and humanity and so being able to engage that with people who are studying all of these different sorts of cool things and what they’re into…it’s just been very fun,” she said warmly.

Teaching Widely
Bennett has used her expertise in literature to develop curriculum that encompasses a variety of different disciplines all in the pursuit of an answer to a persistent human query: Why study art?

“I have a course that was based on an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) grant that I received a couple years back that’s structured around an enduring question. My question is “What is art for?” What are the purposes of art?” Bennett asks.

“I can use literature as one lens to look through to see what kind of purposes literature accomplishes, whether it be an expression of beauty or an expression of political thought or a challenge to power or a manifestation of culture. All these different things can use literature in that way,” said Bennett. “But…what happens when I bring film into the question? What happens when I bring in the fine arts? What happens when I bring in dance to the equation? What are the purposes of a work of art? It allows a kind of flexibility. Literature is the beginning, but it links into so many different areas of human life and I do think that students appreciate that broader menu of offerings within a particular course,” she said.

By asking big questions and encouraging a chorus of alternative opinions, Bennett hopes her students realize the importance of being lifelong learners, willing to walk through the world with an open mind.

“I think the thing they really do get out of it, regardless of the actual content of the course, has to do with being a global thinker in the way that they’re able to really look at a problem,” Bennett said. “Not just from their own perspective but to really entertain what other people have to say about something—that makes the conversation much more engaging and surprising in ways.”

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