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Syllabuzz: COR 348 Life Stories

In this course, Associate Professor of Mathematics Alan Russell stresses the importance of exploring one’s past in order to see the possibilities for the future.

Associate Professor of Mathematics Alan Russell
By Tyler Seibring ’19

Each of us has a unique story. But articulating one’s own story—what defines us, what makes us who we are—can be more difficult than it sounds. Luckily for Elon students, they have COR 348 Life Stories, a course designed to help them examine their journey by piecing together the important events of their life into a greater narrative. The course, taught by Associate Professor of Mathematics Alan Russell, stresses the importance of exploring one’s past and identifying the transformative ability of an Elon education in order to see the possibilities for their future.

Russell doesn’t expect students to be perfect, but they must be open to exploring their lives. The course is intended to help students understand the importance of balance within their lives while creating a product accessible to audiences of a variety of ages. Typically taken their final year, students begin by studying personality trait systems to note the complexities within themselves and the other people in their lives. After that, students study different avenues of thought to facilitate introspection and discussion.

“Depending on the individual makeup of each student cohort, we visit various psychological, religious and philosophical themes of the heroic journey,” Russell says, referring to the tool often used to shape the plot of the main character in a story. “My main goal is to have a strong, varied toolkit to meet each student where they are, equip them to help each other through peer review and ride along with each student as they explore the themes they feel called to investigate during the class.”

Russell notes that each student has faced different challenges that create a unique experience in the classroom. “Students may all seem the same on the surface, but underneath lies a different set of struggles for each,” he says. “They let me into these struggles at the same time they are working on writing their way through these portions of their life stories.”

Since the course is heavily tailored to each student, the class finds that the questions asked throughout the semester don’t have one right answer. Students realize they are the experts on the subject: themselves. The course allows students to sift through their own difficulties while producing something that allows other people, as well as themselves, to understand and appreciate the essence of life. The work created in “Life Stories” often tells of trials overcome in the life of its writer. Through reading the stories, “you gain an entirely new respect for the caliber, quality and strength of the students we have at Elon,” Russell says.

About the professor

Alan Russell joined Elon’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics in 1997. An associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, his research and publications focus on teaching and learning strategies using multiple software applications as well as origami manipulatives in the mathematics and statistics classrooms.

Recommended materials

  • “Your Mythic Journey” by Sam Keen
  • “A River Runs Through It” movie (1992)
Keren Rivas,
8/6/2018 3:05 PM