Q: What is Scholars?
Cheyanne Welch: Scholars is a set of courses that cover the core requirements needed for every degree (except Education). Instead of spending the first year/two years of university taking general courses like basic English, science, health, religion, etc., you take one Scholars course every semester. At the end of the four years, when you have taken all the Scholars classes, you will have covered your breadth requirements. A couple things to note: if you choose to discontinue Scholars, you do not have to retake breadth requirement classes. They match up so that you just have to take the requirements that remain. Also, joining Scholars means that you can begin taking more specialized courses right away in your first year because you don’t have to focus on the general courses, which I really appreciated. Scholars is also more than just a set of courses; it’s a family of people who support you and encourage you. We get together for meals, hold church/vesper gatherings, travel together, and stay in touch even after the courses end. My greatest friends come from Scholars and being in the program has shaped who I am today. ~
Q: What is the structure of scholars?
Cheyanne Welch: Scholars is structured differently than most courses, especially most science, health and math courses. The entire program of Scholars classes is discussion-based and focuses on original texts and critical thinking. For example, instead of reading a textbook on theories of government, we read Plato’s Republic from around 380 BCE and discussed its significance to how governments are structured today. Trust me, it’s much more interesting than a political science textbook (and I can say that because I’ve also read poli-sci textbooks). Each course has an assigned reading list of texts that we go through together - it’s almost more like a book club than a class. We have a section to read each day and come to class with questions to ask each other or notes on various themes and applications. Often times, the professor just welcomes us to class and then sits quietly as we argue back and forth about the text. There is really only one major assignment: a term paper. The exams are an open-book, take-home essay.
Peter Dodds: Scholars practices a discussion-based style of teaching. Readings are given (mostly whole books read over the course of the semester) before each class period. The classes sometimes start as short lectures, where the professors give historical/literary/scientific/political context for what the students have read. After this possible introduction, the discussion will be carried out by the students with minimal handling by the professor. The discussion will be prompted by specific questions by the professor and questions or comments brought in the students (usually mandatory). If there is an important point that the students should know, the professor will guide the discussion to its discovery or bring the point up directly. A professor is always present to help keep the discussion on topic and relevant but generally allows the conversation to unfold organically. This refreshing formula allows the students to move at their own pace and learn according to their own needs and the personality of the group.
Q: I have one or two classes with grades under the minimum requirement, can I still apply?
Jordan Southcott: You definitely can; I think maybe two of the five courses I needed to have “at least X” mark in, actually were that high. I simply went in and appealed personally to Dr. McDowell. He asked me how my writing skills were, as that is a big component of Scholars “work” and because I had 90% in High School English he said “great”. Looking back? I was not great. Or even good. But thankfully, Dr. McDowell let me in, and even helped me learn how to write at a University level. I always assumed it’s because he has a talent for seeing a student not as the grades on their transcript, but as their desire and potential for them to learn.
Q: Is Scholars only for really smart, 4.0 people?
Jordan Southcott: I wish I had a 4.0, are you kidding me? Scholars certainly is not restricted to some inner circle of geniuses; I’m proof of that. I think that even asking the question “is it for smart people?” is somewhat misleading, because I don’t think being academically inclined is what Scholars asks you to be. In this way, it’s different than your typical academic program. Being in Scholars has made me more insightful, and a better thinker. But that was something Scholars helped to cultivate, not something I had to be before being allowed into the program (seriously, ask Dr. McDowell or my classmates how dense I was in those early years, you definitely don’t need to be a genius or guru to get a lot out of Scholars).
Cheyanne Welch: If you had to be a 4.0 student to get into Scholars, I would have been kicked out before I even began my first semester. Academic achievement is not an indicator of intelligence, first off. And even if it was, I can’t think of a single Scholars student who managed to maintain those kinds of grades while also taking other classes, working a job, and having any kind of life. So the short answer is really truly “No - not even close”.
Q: Is it full of condescending, exclusionary elitists?
Jordan Southcott: To be honest, I genuinely don’t know where that came from, although I’ve definitely heard this stereotype going around. Most of us seem to be pretty down to earth people at heart and if anyone wants to discuss ideas with us, I’m confident that most of the time (only a Sith deals in absolutes) we try our best to engage them in ways that would never belittle them as intellectuals. We’re also not exclusionary; I genuinely want more people to be in Scholars and get to share in my experience, I’m not out here trying to keep the group as small as possible like Mensa. My ideal world would be one where everyone wants to join up! So no, don’t believe the rumours, we’re not exclusionary elitist at all.
Cheyanne Welch: It makes me so sad to think that we have this reputation because if you take the time to talk with anyone in Scholars, we are ecstatic to share our experiences and engage on a deeper level with you. I’m always trying to rope the Freshmen into joining Scholars. Perhaps this idea has grown out of the fact that to complete the Scholars program, you have to start during your first year, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a Scholars course. We’ve twice had people who aren’t part of the program take a single course and we have welcomed them with open arms! In addition, we don’t mind if other students or professors sit in (and participate in!) our classes. We’ve got enough Timbits for everyone!
Q: Does scholars encourage a particular theological stance; particularly in atheism or Christianity?
Peter Dodds: No. As a program at a Seventh-day Adventist institution, it is taught by religious professors who do have personal theological values and beliefs. However, in terms of the content, the program does not have any agenda and focuses instead on cultivating a thorough and competent understanding of the topics it encounters. Respectable individuals outside of the program have voiced concerns about the program encouraging atheism. This is a misunderstanding. It is true that there are students who have walked out of scholars doubting, but others who have walked out as born-again Christians. Others don't change much at all. The difference is with the students and their personal journey. All that scholars does in this regard is to give the students the knowledge and the agency to choose for themselves what they believe.
Jordan Southcott: This is probably the most pernicious rumour about us. The question is carefully worded, but the reason behind us including this question is that it seems that some wish to believe that Scholars will make you an atheist. I think that a few of us have left the program deeply questioning our beliefs, but that’s not because Scholars is pushing some sort of atheistic agenda. That was just the journey that person was on, and while I personally don’t identify as an atheist, I deeply respect the journey others are on. I personally became a lot more spiritual from the influence of Scholars, because Scholars actually gave me the tools to see Christianity in a way that wasn’t the twisted perspectives some church-folk embody. So, me going from a misanthropic agnostic, who wasn’t sure whether he thought God existed and sucked, versus God just not existing at all to a very spiritual follower of Christ’s values seems to me to completely turn the narrative of “Scholars turns students into Atheists” on its head.
Cheyanne: By my second year in Scholars, I had concerned friends doing everything they could to make me quit because they were afraid for my soul. The idea that Scholars turns people into atheists is about as accurate as Christianity turning people into hateful bigots. It’s based on ignorance. I left the church because of what the institutional church did to me and my family. Scholars is the reason I still believe (or rather, began to believe again) in God. I found a hope that I had never found in the church. Scholars didn’t make me believe, however; it gave me a safe place to work through my questions, a place that didn’t push one agenda or another.
Sarah: Scholars is what kept me connected to Christianity.
Q: What are the benefits of scholars?
Peter Dodds: Scholars provides foundational knowledge of the topics it explores through the reading of cornerstone texts. But this is just the formal benefit. Since the program spans the length of a 4-year degree and each class contains the same students as they move through their respective degrees, it provides a small community that is of a rare variety. As the students move through the program together, they grow and learn with and from each other, forming friendships that extend beyond the classroom. Another organic benefit that emerges is skills in discussion and debate; much-needed skills in any conversation. Since the class structure focuses on discussion, personalities become tools and obstacles, where hard lessons sometimes need to be learned about how to present ideas, and how to listen to them. Success in scholars does require a certain amount of academic aptitude, but the personal growth and community are also necessary and inevitable.
Cheyanne Welch: Each student experiences Scholars differently, so there are many different benefits. For myself, I found benefits in the structure of the class, the materials covered, and the people within Scholars. The structure of the class (textual analysis and discussions) caused me to become a much better reader of literature. I also built skills in critical thinking, debate, and active listening. The materials we covered gave me a much broader base in academics than regular courses would have. Reading classics and pivotal works has allowed me to make connections across many disciplines (ex: Confessions of St. Augustine reference in a book on Colonialism) that greatly deepen my understanding of the world. Lastly, the people (students and professors) I met have gotten me through the five years I’ve been in school. They are non-judgmental, loyal, and endlessly supportive. If that’s not a benefit, I don’t know what is.
Q: How does one deal with the campus (both from the student body and staff) stigma that goes against this program?
Peter Dodds: There is a stigma sure, but it’s not like I’m ostracized because I’m a member of scholars. Students and staff have way better things to worry about. If someone asks leading questions (like, do the profs try to make you atheist) I just say no, and it’s not true what they’ve probably heard. Honestly that’s normally the end of it.
Cheyanne Welch: Scholars members experience the stigma together, so we all just go to class and tell the stories to each other, laughing or handing out hugs as needed. Personally, I’ve just stopped mentioning Scholars to anyone outside the program because I know it can cause an issue. Maybe that’s one reason people think we’re elitist; it can be kind of frightening to talk about Scholars due to the stigma. It’s a bit of a vicious circle.
Q: How does one share newfound or perhaps abandoned world views with those close to you, be it friends or family?
Jordan Southcott: This is a really tricky question to answer because everyone is so different, but I think the one thing that is always the same is: considerately. Being able to listen and converse about worldviews that are different than yours is a skill I haven’t even figured out totally. So I try to respect that if I haven’t mastered this skill, maybe whoever I’m talking to hasn’t either. If you’re respectful of this fact, you get into less power struggles with people you’re different from. Another tip I would use is to be cognizant of the fact that most people struggle with separating their identity from an idea or construct. If I’m in a situation where I’m talking to someone about an idea I know is extremely close to them, I emphasize the fact that they are not the idea they believe in. They are my mom who I love, not her beliefs I disagree with.
Peter Dodds: While it’s not certain that you’ll change your mind on certain topics, learning tends to make you think about things differently. I’m hesitant to give a prescription on how to share new ideas with people close to you because every relationship is different, and every person is different. The advice I’m inclined to give is that you don’t have to. I would encourage you to prioritize your relationships over what you share. New ideas can be exciting, but if you’re unsure enough about the reception to ask this question, then perhaps it is best to just love those close to you and avoid bringing up things that will cause friction.
Cheyanne Welch: It’s definitely easier to discuss your ideas with someone who recognizes that everyone is free to hold their own beliefs. That being said, you have to realize the same thing. Go into the discussion without an agenda - just share what you know and be open to what they have to say. It can be very frustrating to discuss any alternative theories with someone who wants you to believe the exact same as them. If you find that you can’t have discussions with these people, don’t. Always, always, always focus on the relationship you have with someone. No theory or theology is worth destroying a relationship.
Q: As a Scholars student, what is expected of you both outside and inside the classroom?
Sarah Wallace: The one overarching expectation for a Scholars student is curiosity. Since the program is interdisciplinary and discussion-based, you are expected to have read the texts and have questions or comments of your own. The questions and discussions in Scholars will likely lead you to more questions, but you will carry the ability to see connections between ideas into your other classes, into your major, and into your future career, preparing you to engage more effectively with the world around you. What ultimately makes Scholars so beloved by so many of us students is that it does not emphasize many of the expectations other programs, our parents, or even ourselves place on us—expectations like memorizing insane amounts of information or being “perfect” in academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and even our social lives. Another way of putting it is that the biggest “expectations” in Scholars are to have fun with ideas and to have patience with ourselves and others.
Peter Dodds: You’re expected to read a lot. A lot. That pretty much takes up all your time out and in the classroom so there’s really no other answer. Not trying to scare prospective students though. The books are so good it’s a joy to read them. Scholars homework is the easiest homework not because it's academically easy, it’s just so much fun. We read books ranging from novels to essays and they’re all so interesting.
Cheyanne Welch: As far as actual course work goes, you’re expected to keep up with the reading, which can be challenging at times but never impossible. You are also expected to write essays that express an original thought. This was a new one for me - you can’t just rehash what everyone else has said on the topic - but again, not impossible. In addition to the reading and writing, you are expected to think critically about what’s being presented to you and you’re expected to ask questions.
Q: What is the overarching goal of Scholars, if there is one? What is the difference between who you are when you begin Scholars compared to after you’ve finished?
Peter Dodds: If there is an overarching goal, it would probably to get a decent background for the foundational and cutting edge ideas that have molded the topics we cover in class. The topics range from identity based things like the Western context, being Canadian, being Christian, to science, math, alterity, etc. More concisely; the goal is to read a TON. Now, I can’t really say what the difference is before and after scholars since I haven’t actually finished the program yet. But so far, I have found myself with a lot more tangible agency in my personal ideas, and with a lot of respect for differences between me and everyone else. Whether that came directly from scholars or just growing up, I’m not sure, they honestly blur together in that way. Learning what formed the ideas I took for granted as just my “correct” way of seeing reality, allows me to see them lucidly. Reading a millennia old book and seeing ideas that I thought were recent or even my original thoughts is quite humbling. It also gives me an opportunity to react to what I think; a chance to critique it. It’s very hard, perhaps the hardest part of scholars. And the best part is that it’s nowhere to be found in the course outline. It’s an organic result of learning.
Cheyanne Welch: The only goal I know of is to make us better world citizens, educated and open-minded. It strives to develop our minds. I always think of what Dr. McDowell asks us, “How are you going to live your life?” and perhaps that is the goal: to make us live intentionally and not passively. For myself, I would never want to go back to the person I was before Scholars. While I don’t have all the answers, I am a stronger, wiser, better person than I ever was before. I care about the world and the people around me. I am able to spiritually, emotionally, mentally connect with people of all walks of life and I would never give that up.
Q: Will being in Scholars show up on my diploma? How could being in Scholars help me with professional/academic life beyond Burman?
Jordan Southcott: First question -- Yes, it will. The Second question takes a little more explanation. When applying to higher academia, as a general rule it is always better to have an “honours” type program on your transcript. Also, I’ll tell you this for anyone going into post-grad studies: becoming effective at writing academic papers will be INSANELY helpful. As for professional life, I’ll say this as someone in the human services field: the skills of empathy, critical thinking, and understanding of world events have made me an employee who can really connect with a wide variety of people, which is always important in a work-culture that is only getting more and more diverse (and awesome because of it). So basically, if you ever interact with people in your job (probably everyone reading this) Scholars will make you a better employee.
Cheyanne Welch: Having Scholars on my transcript was definitely an important bonus when I applied to an academic internship in Washington, DC and to an Alberta government grant, both of which I was accepted for. Also, the skills and information I have learned in Scholars will definitely help me in my career in international relations.
Sarah Wallace: As someone soon to graduate and already accepted into graduate programs that combine creative and academic work, I believe Scholars has been my best preparation for graduate school (even more than most classes in my major) because it gave me a thorough understanding of the sources of ideas and taught me to connect, synthesize, and critique those ideas. In my master’s degree I expect to pursue research and creative topics that I first became engaged with during the tour of Italy and Greece.
Q: Who can I get in touch with to learn more?
Contact John McDowell | Email: email@example.com