Changes for Truman Symposium Classes

For the class of 2027, the Truman Symposium classes and Self and Society seminars look different from what they were for prior freshmen classes.

“We took it upon ourselves to make changes because there was positive feedback and there was negative feedback,” David Leaton, co-chair of the First-Year Committee and Self and Society instructor, said.

Regarding the negative feedback, Leaton said many students felt the classes had too much busy work and that instructors felt caged in. The previous classes used to include required writing assignments and attendance at several campus events.

“We wanted to take [the feedback] into account and see what kinds of changes we could make,” Leaton said.

In November 2022, the First-Year Committee members met for the first time, said Leaton. The committee was formed by some members of the Self and Society committee and some people who had done the work on the Symposium as well as others.

“We have spaces for people from different offices: student housing has a representative, diversity, and inclusion has a member, and advising has a member,” Leaton said. “So it’s a much bigger committee than the old Self and Society committee.”

The committee settles on two primary goals to focus on for the Truman Symposium classes, Leaton said.

“The academic language is ‘a sense of belonging,’ which has a variety of components, but that’s what we’re really after: civic engagement and a sense of belonging,” said Leaton.

The primary change is that the formal requirements for the Truman Symposium classes have lessened this semester. Leaton said instructors are deciding how to embody the goals of the course. Some are using preceptors; some are not. Some conduct a full semester-long class, and some only a block.

Freshman student Kannon Talken, who is enrolled in the Innovate Truman Symposium class, said the course explores how the students can improve different businesses in Kirksville.

“So far, we’ve just gone over ideas and key ways of how to improve the town,” said Talken. “But soon, we’re going to be taking tours and going to different facilities to see how we can actually use these ideas to help out.”

“It’s only been a couple of weeks in, but I haven’t heard a lot of complaints from students or faculty,” said Leaton.

There will be course evaluations and a non-mandatory survey for the middle of the semester and end. Leaton said the committee will be interested in the response to the changes.

“We will pull some focus groups of students for the end of December or January and see what people have to say,” said Leaton.

Leaton said this is a crucial semester for the First-Year Committee to decide whether or not [Truman Symposium] will remain as is in the fall of 2024.

“In my mind, as co-chair, I have strong opinions, but I’m completely open about it,” he said. “But what we want it to look like, we will settle on that within the next three to four months.”