It’s a common cliche that college students college learn as much from their classmates as their professors — but at UNC, some students have taken this notion even further. Honors Carolina’s C-START courses are giving undergraduates the opportunity to design, develop and teach weekly seminar courses of their own.
C-START stands for “Carolina Students Taking Academic Responsibility through Teaching.” Students have the chance to enroll in any of the program’s diverse course offerings, with topics ranging from health care to ecology to art.
One of these courses is “Race, Gender, Class and the Environment,” taught by senior environmental science student Jack Walsh. His course focuses on the underlying social factors that lead to environmental issues, rather than approaching problems through a traditional policy lens.
“The C-START program creates a unique opportunity for breaking free from the University in terms of learning,” he said.
Walsh said the experience of these types of classes allows students to freely express ideas and become comfortable with their voice, rather than worrying about grades or what professors may think of their work.
Walsh encourages a collaborative and discussion-based environment, making the class more like a reading group than a traditional course.
“I’m not going to be lecturing and telling them how things are, or anything like that,” he said.
Walsh found the process of preparing the course educational and enlightening.
“It definitely deepens your understanding," Walsh said. "Rather than just reading something, you’re having to read something and then try to figure out how to explain it, or contextualize it or analyze it for another group of people."
Senior psychology and English major Cherish Miller teaches a course called “Clinical Approaches to Literature: Mental Illness in Fiction,” which focuses on portrayals of mental illness in literature and film. She said she also reaped personal benefits from teaching a C-START course.
“It’s a really important skill to be able to communicate these topics, just because you learn so much by teaching,” Miller said. “I also wanted to hear what other students had to say about something that I thought was very important.”
Miller said having students teach classes puts the students and instructors on more equal footing. She said the more equal environment of a C-START course might resemble a workplace, where someone in the same position as other workers can lead a project.
Students in C-START courses have also found them to be beneficial. Sophomore public policy and history major Melissa Peters is enrolled in Walsh’s course, and in addition to finding the topic of the course interesting, she discovered advantages of having a student as an instructor.
“(Student instructors) understand what you’re going through as a student,” Peters said. “You can feel more connected to them because you’re both students and from the same generation.”
These highly specific classes allow students to have intimate conversations with other students who are genuinely passionate about the topics at hand. Instead of large lectures, students can engage in small discussions.
“Students only get into these classes if they really want to take them, and it’s smaller, so it feels much more personable, especially on Zoom right now,” Peters said.
Peters said the C-START program not only provides an interesting experience for those involved, but also constitutes a strong step forward for the University.
“Having new students come in with new ideas and specific interests that maybe other professors wouldn’t have is a really unique and fun way to start new classes and bring new ideas into UNC,” Peters said.
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