School of the Arts

2011 Aspire magazine arrives

By Kevin Gillen

Kevin Gillen

While many college students dread the required public speaking course, some Indiana students take the class for college credit while they are still in high school. Their high school teachers commonly refer to them as their “kids,” but I have come to conclude that these fine students are anything but just that.

The Advanced College Project (ACP) is a partnership between Indiana, Michigan and Ohio high schools and Indiana University that allows high school seniors to earn college credit for IU general education classes taught in their own schools.  Among the various hats I wear at the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts, the most inspiring is being the ACP faculty liaison for the S121 Public Speaking course.   

Each summer and fall, I conduct training seminars for high school teachers who wish to offer ACP classes at their schools. These teachers must attend a training seminar and receive at least one site visit per academic year by their faculty liaison. My territory covers most of northern Indiana, from Michigan City to Angola. On my visits, I conduct evaluations to ensure the high school ACP course is providing the same fine educational experience IU students get on campus.

My evaluations include information on grading practices, teaching effectiveness, student interest and engagement, among others. I look forward to these visits because I am always impressed to see how S121 is not only blossoming “off campus”, but also thriving. Although the focus is on the effectiveness of the teachers, it is the students who never fail to surprise me with their abilities. They inspire me by way of their enthusiasm and positive energy. It’s not to say that they don’t have their stumbling blocks the same as any S121 students on our campus, but one has to keep in mind—they are choosing this class, where once they get to college, it is a requirement. This difference results in “kids” who are well prepared and fully engaged in the topic; something each college faculty member wishes for.

Sometimes the students are trying to impress me, but more often, they are engaging in class activities as if no one was observing them. This affords me something of an ethnographic sense of their academic experience. On my visits, any given activity or assignment may be in progress, such as the persuasive speech, an exercise to create an impromptu sales presentation, or writing and orally contributing feedback on the effectiveness of their fellow classmate’s speeches. In every case the high school classes meet the same pedagogical standards as S121 Public Speaking classes here on campus.

These students, who typically come from communities not necessarily known for demographic diversity, yield some surprising information. For one thing, they are versed in current political topics and policies, and often deftly weave these into their debates in class. But through their participation in class, it is evident they know how to appropriately  utilize inclusive language—be it about sexual orientation, religion, or race, for example—and thereby choose to be, and to become, “citizens of the world” (thank you JFK!).

I have high esteem for both the instructors and students of the ACP Public Speaking classes I visit. The tutelage of these highly effective instructors, and the choice of these students to succeed as well as they do, make the ACP Public Speaking classes more than worthwhile. Suffice it to say, that these “kids” are all right. I am proud to be part of their experience.

Senior Lecturer Kevin Gillen teaches public speaking. Also a master gardener, he is the arts go-to guy for advice about aphids, office plants, and when to prune. He has a horticulture degree and was a longtime interior landscape consultant