University to host Odyssey Series

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 5, 2005 – This Saturday, April 9, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS) at Virginia Tech will host more than 100 junior high students and their parents as part of the “Odyssey Series,” which targets talented youth interested in the liberal arts. Seventh, eighth and ninth graders from across the state who have been identified as having high academic achievement will participate in various workshops that showcase the importance of social sciences.

The event will be from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Torgersen Hall where CLAHS faculty will address traditional topics and issues in their fields and discuss how work in these disciplines can profoundly shape the future. Presentations will be made by 10 of the college’s faculty:

Randy Ward (Theatre Arts) will take his group to the theater to explore the magic of contemporary stage lighting technology. Lighting can instantly change a mood, focus the audience's attention, or enhance an actor's character. Students will be able to see state-of-the-art computer control in action, all in preparation for a production of British playwright Caryl Churchill's stunning look into a world at war.

John Ryan (professor and chair, Department of Sociology) will discuss “The Culture Game: Understanding Human Behavior.” Ryan will explain that everything we do -- from how we talk to what we wear to who we aspire to be -- is a direct reflection of the culture in which we live. Using a sociological perspective, this presentation will encompass how culture controls human behavior and will instill a greater appreciation for human diversity.

Joseph Pitt (professor and chair, Department of Philosophy) will explore the topic “What is Truth and Why is it Important?” The human race is constantly seeking truth. But what is truth really? Why is the truth so important? This presentation will engage participants in dialog about these questions and will explore the philosophical nature of truth.

Neal M. King (associate professor, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies) will discuss “Saviors on Screen.” From King Arthur to Aragorn, from Superman to Luke Skywalker, ordinary-seeming boys turn out to have super powers and save the world. Now, the first female savior has finally appeared, in the form of Buffy the vampire slayer. Discussion will focus on where this story came from and why we have only now added a girl to the gallery of saviors at this point in our history.

Daniel B. Thorp (associate professor and chair, Department of History) will address “What Were Lewis & Clark Looking for Anyway?” Every American has heard of Lewis and Clark, but most believe they were the first white men to cross the American continent – which they were not – and that Thomas Jefferson sent them west to explore the Louisiana Purchase – which he did not. This lecture looks at why Lewis and Clark went west and what they hoped to find there.

James M. Dubinsky (associate professor and director of Professional Writing and Advanced Composition Program, Department of English) explores “The Traveling Soldier: The Dixie Chicks, Saddam Hussein, and the 9/11 Report.” When war breaks out, emotions run high, and people ask difficult questions. During this interactive, multimedia presentation on war, the Internet and artists, the texts will be song lyrics, news reports, films, novels, poems, websites, and government documents. Free speech and critical thinking are required.

Thomas Gardner (professor, Department of English) will tackle “Making Poems Come Alive.” Poems are acts of the mind and heart, and what one does in reading is re-enact the linked moves that the writer makes, coming to understand the entire drama as what the poem “means.” Using Emily Dickinson’s “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” participants will learn to visualize and engage with each of the poem’s moves through directed questions and exercises.

Clare Dannenberg and Sheila Carter-Tod (assistant professors, Department of English) will engage participants in hands on experiments with a number of different varieties of English including African American Vernacular English, Appalachian English, and Native American English. The program will utilize audio samples and video vignettes as well as hands-on exercises to work deductively as “language detectives” and strives to debunk the myths of American dialects.

Ken Garland (Department of Communication) will utilize the Virginia Tech television studio, and help participants learn the steps involved in producing a local evening television newscast including the roles people play behind the scenes. Following a brief demonstration, participants will feel what it’s like to be “in the chair and on the air.”

Valerie Gray Hardcastle (professor and chair, Science & Technology in Society) poses the quandary “What You See Is Not What You Get!” The world is not necessarily how it looks to us. Our brains construct most of our perceptions using very little “real world” information, creating our world rather than experiencing it. In this presentation, participants will experience first hand some of these constructions and talk about why our brains fool us about what is going on so much of the time.