As an award-winning professor at a university that embraces interdisciplinarity, Regan A.R. Gurung is accustomed to finding inspiration in unexpected places.
So perhaps it’s not a surprise that an album from the musician Sting — of whom Gurung is a big fan — led to what’s becoming a signature exercise in one of Gurung’s signature courses, the “Gods, Ghosts and Goblins” freshman seminar.
“I was looking for a kinesthetic activity, something to get the class out — something that would be for them a big visual sign,” Gurung said, “and, fortuitously, (the album) ‘Songs from the Labyrinth’ came on. It just made a lot of sense because I thought about that a long time ago — the fact that the labyrinth is this meditative thing.”
Meditative, reflective — and therefore perfect for a course (subtitled “The Psychology of Belief”) that explores why we believe what we do. The labyrinth, unlike the maze for which it is often mistaken, has just one path — and therefore allows those who travel there to remain centered and free from distractions. From medieval times, monks have traveled labyrinths in prayer. St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, just a short drive from campus, maintains a prayer labyrinth today.
So, Gurung thought, why not make one at UW-Green Bay? His fall 2010 seminar course was the first to do so, and after Gurung’s 2011-12 sabbatical, his current seminar class got its chance Tuesday (Nov. 27) in the campus quad. Using environmentally safe spray paint, all 25 of Gurung’s students had a hand in the project, carefully creating the labyrinth and marking the outside with various religious symbols. Afterward, they walked its path — which takes longer than one might think, due to all the twists and turns, Gurung said — before retiring inside for hot chocolate and discussion of the day’s event.
“The nice thing about the labyrinth is, it doesn’t have to be any specific religion,” Gurung said, “and it doesn’t even have to be God. It can be (being) one with yourself, you know, and I really like that concept. …We take a step back, and at the heart of it all is the self-focus.”
Gurung’s “Gods, Ghosts and Goblins” class has become one of the University’s most popular courses, essentially filling on the first day of fall registration. Begun in 2006, UW-Green Bay freshman seminars are designed to provide a small-class experience, more interaction with faculty and peers, and a higher level of direct engagement with issues and information than is typical in a larger, general-education course. They’re an oft-cited example of what are termed high-impact practices, those experiences and initiatives that impact student success by enhancing learning and fostering engagement and persistence for students.
Plus, the classes are a lot of fun.
“When the learning outcome is the stimulating thinking and stuff like that,” Gurung said, “the seminar gives you the flexibility to reach that end in nontraditional ways.”
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Photos by Kimberly Vlies, Office of Marketing and University Communication