The McKendrean Magazine for McKendree Univeristy - Summer 2023

Thinking Outside The Box

Student PodcastersFeature by: Tina (Napper) Tebbe '08

As McKendree continues carrying out its latest strategic plan, U.N.I.T.E.D., in anticipation of its bicentennial in 2028, the university is constantly empowering, educating, and nurturing its students, faculty, staff, and community. The six-pronged plan, which will allow the university to enter its third century united as One McKendree, focuses on six singular ideas and goals, each representing a letter in the word “united” – updates and modernization, name recognition and identity, intellectual experience, technology and training, engagement, and diversity and equity. In this edition of The McKendrean, we will spotlight how the university is making the strategic plan’s third pillar, Intellectual Experience, shine and enrich Bearcats in and outside of the classroom.

Learning About History Through Music

History doesn’t have to be strictly learned about through textbooks. Take, for instance, Dr. Shelly Lemons’s class, America By Ear: Modern America Through Song, a course for creative types who like to think outside the norm and for students who don’t think they really like history. This class, which covers American history from the 1880s through the early 21st century, came about when previous assistant professor of biology and music enthusiast, Dr. Ben Jellen, proposed team-teaching a course that would use music to look at major themes in American history. Shelly and Ben team-taught the course as a special topics in history in fall 2015, and now Shelly has been teaching the course solo, once as an Honors course and most recently as a regular offering.

“For students who like music, this course is really fun,” Shelly said. “Students learn to work together and also see a variety of viewpoints from both their classmates and from the song selections. It feeds creativity while at the same time highlighting the most important and significant shifts in modern American history.”

A typical class looks much like a radio show with several moving parts, including Brightspace, YouTube, and Spotify, all running through a desktop, laptop, at least one cell phone, and a Bose speaker. A weekly theme of historical context is set and students select songs they feel fit the theme. The class discusses the playlists, linking portions of the song lyrics to the larger narrative of modern American history. After doing this weekly for the majority of the semester, students complete a signature assignment for the course called “America by Ear Top 40,” in which they select the forty songs they believe to tell the story of modern American history.

“Everything from ‘Tin Pan Alley’ and wartime marches to rap, hip-hop, ballads, and country blues is played here,” Shelly said. “It truly is everything my students can imagine.”

Students also take part in special research assignments, including a sound collage, in which they use only sound – no words – to tell a story in just a few minutes. They also select a topical research project in which they discuss a specific topic of interest in American history and use songs as the primary sources to support their interpretations, which ends in students creating their own topical podcasts. Throughout this time, students learn to read historical sources critically, describe broad trends over time using both primary and secondary source materials, critically discuss historical topics and their significance, recognize and challenge assumptions that are often made about the past and how it impacts the present and future, and rectify diverging viewpoints through thoughtful and respectful discourse.

“We accomplish this by having a TON of really fun and interesting conversations about music, artists, styles of music, live versus recorded music performances, and more,” Shelly added. “We even spent some time considering the pros and cons of remaking music and how the impact of a song can change depending on the artist and style.”

Giving Bearcats a Voice Through Podcasting

When Dr. Rich Murphy, associate professor of public relations and communication, was asked to take over as the advisor to McK Radio, he thought about creating an entire class around podcasting to help students get experience recording their voices. 

“Personally, I am a podcast enthusiast; I’d say I listen to three or so a day,” Rich said. “I love the sense of community and connection to a topic they create.”

While podcasting itself first appeared in the 1980s (known then as “audioblogs”), it began to catch hold in 2004 and started surging in popularity in recent years with no signs of stopping. Streaming and podcasts are still important elements of communication plans for many organizations, something that Rich believes is integral for students’ success in the real world.

“I find that any time students are pushed to communicate ideas over a public medium, they are being intellectually challenged,” he said.

The class often looks similar to a newsroom – podcast topics are brainstormed, assigned, researched, recorded, and shared. This spring, students researched and recorded a wide array of topics including artificial intelligence (AI), student-athlete mental health, and how COVID-19 has permanently affected the classroom. Afterward, they discussed their experiences and reflected on how they may improve. Classroom sessions also include students partaking in several improv exercises, along with practicing interviewing, building conversation, and listening to one another. 

“My goal is to get students to become better communicators, not just in the studio, but in life in general,” Rich said. “I think so many podcasters and people outside of academia put pressure on themselves to ‘speak.’ The idea is that whoever speaks the most is the smartest. I want my students leaving knowing this is not true; great communicators focus on listening and making the person we interact with feel like their ideas are being heard. My goal is for them to be able to create a podcast that gives voices to others.”

The podcasting class also set up in the Piper Academic Center (PAC) and livestreamed during the 2023 Academic Excellence Celebration. Each student took turns interviewing people and discussing the day’s events.

“I wanted to give the students some experience covering a live event. I think they – and I – learned a lot! I was proud to watch the students really get excited and start pushing out content. While there were some hiccups, I thought that it was overall a wonderful experience,” Rich remarked. 

Racing to Make a Difference

Planning, coordinating, and running events can often seem insurmountable, even for the most seasoned of event planners and managers. Imagine putting together a 5K race while juggling classes, extracurricular activities, and internships. That’s what the students in McKendree’s sport event and facilities management class did this semester – and it was a smashing success.

“The sport event and facilities management course is an incredible way to teach our students through experiential learning and how to plan, coordinate, and run a sporting event, something that is obviously a huge part of working in the world of sports management,” said Dr. Robert Itri, assistant professor of sport management at McKendree. “They learn lessons in this class that they couldn’t learn in any lecture hall.”

McKendree’s students certainly do learn the ins and outs of sports event planning. They are responsible for marketing the event, creating and maintaining a budget for the event, staffing volunteers, creating a sponsorship packet, handling all of the logistical operations of setting up, running, and breaking down the event, and creating a post-event participant survey and organizing those results. Afterward, the students present what they did during McKendree’s annual Academic Excellence Celebration and create a “handbook” of instructions to give to next year’s students to help them know what they need to do to succeed.

While seeing a major event from start to finish sounds challenging in itself, perhaps one of the biggest and most challenging things students are asked to do in this class is procuring sponsors for the race. To do this, Bearcats go out into the community and speak with businesses to ask for sponsorship donations to help pay for the event, whose profits benefit a local nonprofit. This year for the class’s Race for Love 5K run/walk, the class was able to donate more than $3,000 to Leaps of Love, a nonprofit organization from Highland, Ill., that has been helping families affected by childhood cancer since its establishment in 2010.

“Facility and event management is a huge aspect in sports management; it’s what I would call a fundamental building block of sports management,” Robert said. “Our students aren’t just learning the ‘academics’ or theory behind how to run an event in this class. They get to learn how to do so firsthand. They are responsible for doing everything. They learn by doing, they learn by failing, they learn by working together, and they learn how to be successful in this field.”