UNIV 101 Connects with Drexel History at the Woodlands

By Jacob Harte
Photos Courtesy of Dan Driscoll

January 29, 2010 — The Woodlands, a historic mansion, cemetery and landscape, holds notable individuals such as artist Thomas Eakins, United States congressman James Thompson, and the founder of Drexel University, Anthony Joseph Drexel. A twenty-minute walk from the main campus, the Woodlands is rich with culture and history, but not a likely destination for Drexel students. However, on Saturday, October 10, 2010, several students rediscovered this area when their University 101 class, led by English faculty members Rachel Wenrick and Dan Driscoll, endeavored to clean up the Woodlands as part of Philadelphia’s “Beautification Day.”

Woodlands Group

The group worked in the rain and mud, trimming ivy, pruning and planting bushes and trees, and resetting gravestones. But it wasn’t just the transformation of a physical space that took place: “I left the Woodlands feeling as if I had done something to preserve the beauty of my community,” said Lacy Lott, an undecided freshman. Anika Vittands, a biological sciences major, added, “As a student who used to live in a small town in New Hampshire being in a city can be rather intimidating at times. Having University 101 as a way to introduce me to the city of Philadelphia, and city life in general, is nice.”

Adapting to college life can certainly be overwhelming at first: having to make new friends, learn to live on your own, and cope with a larger workload. The University 101 course at Drexel is designed to guide and help students with this transition. “University 101 gives us a chance to clarify the confusion of starting out at a new school and to talk to other freshmen in our major about the frustrations we are having with our academics and adjustment to college life,” said Lott. Professor Wenrick believes this adjustment is most successful when the professor is able to break through the restraints of the teacher-student relationship established at the high school level and to establish a new set of boundaries where the student is viewed as an adult and equal. The adventure to clean the Woodlands allowed the professors to step out of the socially facilitated boundaries created in the classroom setting and become participant observers while providing the students with a diverse intellectual experience. Taking students off Drexel’s campus encourages them, as Professor Driscoll noted, to view their professor from a different perspective-- as an open mentor and useful source in guiding their college experience.

Vittands said the experience at The Woodlands allowed her to be closer with her UNIV 101 professors as well as the other professors that joined the excursion: “[T]his project helped bring me closer to the Drexel community.” As a freshman in a new city, that experience is priceless.

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Jacob Harte graduated in June of 2010 with a B.A. in English.