Outside of a classroom, finding space for academic enrichment on a college campus can be a difficult task.
Keeping students engaged with new, creative ideas to stimulate their education is no easy endeavor, particularly in a non-threatening space uninhibited by the weight of grades and degrees. This engagement is vital to a student’s growth and development during their higher education experience, and Elizabethtown College has taken it upon themselves to create a space where this kind of learning can be fostered: the Bowers Writers House.
Located just off Cedar Street behind Ober residence hall, the house was opened in the spring of 2010 with the goal of promoting and supporting a culture of “creative curiosity”, according to the college’s website. The space was dedicated to Elizabethtown alumni and community members Kenneth and Rosalie Bowers, and serves to bring a “sense of excitement and enthusiasm for intellectual diversity” to the college’s student body.
Anywhere from eight to twelve scholars visit the Bowers Writers House each semester, hosting a variety of events ranging from film screenings to seminars to readings, depending on their area of expertise. Dr. Jesse Waters, the director of the Writer’s House, asks that each guest “leave their academics outside, and bring into the house what they’re personally and professionally passionate about”, which provides a wide array of subjects and experiences for students to learn from. Over the course of the house’s ten years as part of the Elizabethtown College community, it has hosted over two hundred and eighty visitors for upwards of three hundred and twenty events, covering every discipline and genre of learning offered at the college.
According to English department chair Dr. Matthew Skillen, these events gives students insight into what their career fields look like beyond what they learn in the classroom.
“I think a writer’s house allows them an opportunity to learn more about not only their craft,” Skillen says, “Because we host craft workshops and other engaging activities like that, but they also get to meet people who are doing what they want to do for a living across all career levels and variety of industries. I think it’s a really neat way to see how the skills that you develop here can translate into something really exciting and meaningful after your graduation.”
Each event hosted at the house is split into three parts, offering different levels of engagement with guests for students. Afternoon engagements begin after the completion of a day’s classes (around 4 p.m., according to Waters), and consist of a smaller crowd attending a casual engagement like a craft talk or a hands-on seminar before moving on to have dinner with the guests. This allows students to have a more personal sit-down with guests, before moving on to a more “public-oriented presentation or seminar”, with a larger audience filling the house’s great room.
“Over the ten years we’ve had programming [at the house],” Waters says, “Our attendance numbers show that we fill the house at about a capacity of fifty five percent [for each event]. So on average, we fill the place just over half.”
The house also seeks to make students reconsider their views on certain academic fields through these events, and broaden their horizons to new and exciting opportunities.
“I might have a poet that comes in and talks about their love for chemistry,” Waters says, “So that chemistry students might have an opportunity to say, “You know, I’ve never really cared about poetry, but that’s a chemist who seems to love poems. What might I have missed? Or why is that chemist so excited about poetry?”
The house’s goals in challenging students’ ideas align directly with the liberal arts foundation of Elizabethtown College, serving as a space of connection between majors and disciplines to bring students together in their work.
“This is a liberal arts college,” Waters says, “And as you may know, the whole idea of a liberal arts experience is to have an engagement where you have the opportunity to see how all of these genres and disciplines and ideas and areas of thought have a sense of connection. So I try to bring in people at the writer’s house that demonstrate that sense of connection, so that our students have an opportunity to really experience the liberal arts in a place that’s not threatening, where there’s no risk [and] no loss.”
This sense of connection has been fostered significantly since the founding of the house in 2010, and it shows in the way the space has developed and students have benefited from the programming offered. According to Dr. Skillen, a number of artists and writers have become return guests at the house, encouraging students to create a community and a network with professionals invested in their chosen areas of study.
“I came to know about the Writers House shortly after I arrived at Elizabethtown about ten years ago,” he says, “And have just enjoyed seeing how it’s grown into this space that really means a lot to a lot of different people, which I think is exciting.”
Guests have already been invited for the spring semester, and include singers, actors, poets, political scientists, and continuing education graduates presenting on a variety of topics from communications and marketing to how creative writing benefits students in medical school. Programming will continue throughout the semester, all the way up to finals, giving students plenty of time to stop in whenever they can find the time.