Exploring Outside the Lines

We all had one during our time in college: an elective course signed up for on a whim, perhaps begrudgingly, to fulfill that elusive flag requirement, in search of that “easy A,” or to meet necessary hours for the semester. But often, we come out of those courses with some unexpected knowledge that sticks in the brain—and maybe even turns into a passion that lasts for years.  

UT journalism professor Robert Quigley still remembers one of the electives he took as a journalism student at Stephen F. Austin State University more than 20 years ago: “History of Cinema.” Every week in a three-hour lab, Quigley joined his fellow students to watch films older than he was, taught by a professor who had been on movie sets for decades and took the time to explain to this group of college kids what made these movies magical.  

Years later, that course sticks with Quigley. Not just because he got to watch movies for a grade, but because he had the opportunity to think about the lighting, the pacing, the sound design—all explained by someone who had actually been there. Now, he’s thinking of that class as he embarks on teaching his own 300-seat elective course.  

His upcoming elective, a course titled “True Crime Podcasts,” is being offered for the first time this fall and is open to anyone. He hopes it’ll appeal to students who listen to podcasts, who are intrigued by true crime, or really anyone interested in taking a journalism-focused course outside their major. Quigley is the perfect person to create a course like this: He’s the founder of The Drag, the audio production house at UT that has created several true crime podcasts, including The Orange Tree and its subsequent seasons entitled Darkness.  

“[The Drag’s podcasts] got me thinking … Why is this so entertaining to people? And why are they attracted to this particular genre, not just in podcasts, but also in movies and documentaries and everything else?” Quigley says. He also wanted to give everyone the opportunity to dive into journalistic ethics—something readers or listeners don’t always get to see.  

In the class, the students are, of course, listening to and analyzing podcasts, but also diving into the psychology behind true crime’s appeal, learning about the reporting process, discussing ethical issues, and hearing from the hosts and journalists behind some of the most popular podcasts.  

“I feel like a lot of the students who sign up for the class think, oh my gosh, I love true crime podcasts. This is going to be awesome,” he says. “And it will be, but maybe not for the reason they thought. I think this is an ethics class disguised as an entertainment class.” 

Quigley hopes that his students will leave this elective the same way he left his: learning something that they remember for decades—even if it has nothing to do with their future careers. 

“I think one of the most important things you could do when you’re in college is to explore other things,” Quigley says. “Having a specialty is great, but understanding the world around you is becoming more and more important.”  

For this issue of the Alcalde, in celebration of these fun and unexpected lessons, we asked alumni about the electives they took over the years on the Forty Acres. Here’s what they had to say. 

En garde! 

As a teenager, I had read The Three Musketeers and had seen the first Star Wars, so is it any wonder that when I arrived on campus in the early ’80s I dreamed of learning to fight with a sword?  

As a break from my statistics and accounting classes, I enrolled in fencing as a fun elective. The fencing classes were held in Bellmont Hall, Darrell Williams was the instructor, and he had a tiny budget. Students were issued masks, foils, and jackets, much like the Olympians wear, but our chest protectors were made from carpet squares! Classes started with stretching, and then we practiced repetitive footwork, attacks, and parries. Only after that was mastered were we able to participate in one-on-one duels.  

Class was always conducted inside the gym, except at the end of the semester, when Williams would take the class outside for one day and we were allowed to participate in a range of fencing games and combat scenarios. Before departing the gym, Williams would pin a cape onto the back of each fencer with the color of the cape identifying who was on which team. The capes were actually material taken from broken and discarded rain umbrellas that Williams would find around campus (did I mention the class had NO budget?).  

When we practiced inside the gym, we always practiced Olympic- 
style fencing, which required the fencers to stay within a narrow, painted lane. But when the class was taken outside, we had the opportunity to practice on different terrain and around various obstacles. For one scenario, we fought single file atop a short parapet wall. In another game, one squad stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the top of the stairs next to the fountain and was tasked with defending the fortress from a charging gang of black-caped marauders. For the final game, each fencer had a party balloon pinned to their uniform; we would all stand in a large circle on the lawn, and then Williams would blow his whistle and we would rush to the middle in a huge melee. The last person with an unpopped balloon was the winner. The games were a blast! 

—Daryl Chalberg, BBA ’84 

I failed both “Jazz Appreciation” and “Children’s Literature.” I was told they were easy As. Apparently, you needed to attend class to get the A. 

—Terri Colburn Hoyland, BS ’97, Life Member 

Ballroom dancing while in pharmacy school. The class was in the evening and the instructor finally caught on that my friend and I had usually had a few margaritas before the dancing began. 

—Thomas Ross Isbon, PharmD ’99 

“Household Equipment” aka Pots and Pans, circa 1973. Thought it was going to be a blow-off course, but it turned out to be pretty technical! 

—Joyce Williams, BBA ’76 

I took “History of Rock Music.” I was a UT nursing student, and this was in my sophomore year before starting nursing school in 1980. I would come to class straight from Pathophysiology lab smelling like formaldehyde. The class was amazing. We got extra credit for going to the Bruce Springsteen concert. We camped out for tickets and our professor drove up on her Harley in her leather jacket. It was a blast. 

—Stefani Hurst, BSN ’82 

Bait and Switch  

In my junior year, I found myself in need of a credit, with a very limited selection of courses that matched and fit into my schedule. With deep reservations, I signed up for “U.S. Foreign Policy Towards Countries in the Third World” (or at least that’s how I remember it). On the first day of class, I dragged myself to the room, unpacked my notebook, and waited for the requisite handing out of the syllabus. At the appointed hour, the professor came in, introduced himself as Professor Jim Henson, and asked who had signed up for U.S. foreign policy, followed by most everyone raising their hands. He then announced it would in fact be “The Politics of Popular Culture” and anyone who preferred would be free to drop without penalty. I was intrigued, but a bit less so when picking up the printed materials at Kinko’s. The first couple lectures are, with 30 years hindsight, a blur to me other than the repeated use of phrases like “cultural diaspora,” but I stuck with it. 

Later on, we watched “The Drumhead” (a great episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation which heavily referenced the House Un-American Activities Committee), and critiqued Madonna videos. I recall that my final exam involved an essay question on whether or not The Terminator is a prototypical example of a slasher film (it is). 

The following year, I ran into Henson at Crown & Anchor and told him how much I’d enjoyed (and gotten out of) the course. I began to ask … “So, about those first couple of lectures?” 

“Total weed-out material,” he said. I think I bought him a beer for that. 

—James McClure, BFA ’92 

“Astronomy of the Bizarre: Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life” (challenging and no actual aliens—disappointing) and “Roman Funerary Art and Architecture” (fascinating and strangely topical). 

—Jessica Jones Gonzales, BFA ’97 

Journalism major in early ’90s. I took an “Apartheid in Literature” course taught by a South African professor. Truly an eye-opening class. 

—Rachelle Vega, BS ’92, MS ’09 

Mind Blown  

The elective course I took was a linguistics course called “Language and the Brain” (or something close to it). It helped me help my father recover from a stroke he had years later.  

I was a finance major looking for something non-business related to take as an elective. This linguistics course looked interesting. Little did I know I’d spend a fascinating semester learning about brain anatomy and how strokes affect language.  

More than 10 years later, my father had a mild stroke after open-heart surgery. When the PT and OT were working with him, they would show him a picture of an apple, and he couldn’t tell them what it was. We all assumed it was normal aphasia. But when I was working with him in the hospital at 3 a.m., I showed him the same picture, and he told me he couldn’t see it. I moved the page and he said, “Apple!” Turns out the stroke was in his occipital region, not in the right hemisphere like most strokes. His language wasn’t affected at all; he had field of vision cuts! The PT and OT were so surprised the next day! 

—Molly Cost, BBA ’89, JD ’92 

I was a Radio-TV-Film major but took “Mayan Hieroglyphics” just as a completely random, cool elective! It was much harder than I expected and the other students all seemed to know much more about it coming in! I saw some Mayan hieroglyphics at the Kimbell Museum recently and was bummed that I didn’t remember enough to help read them. But I think I still have the class materials. 

—Alison Dellenbaugh, BS ’88, Life Member 

The Power of Art 

You know you have found the right professor and class when you wake up excited for an 8 a.m. Stepping into “Twentieth-Century African American Art” my first year at UT, I was unaware of the profound impact this elective or Professor Eddie Chambers would have on the trajectory of my time on campus. The course surveyed the visual art produced by people of African descent in the United States with an emphasis on the 20th century and its sociohistorical framework. Some of the notable artists included the coloring of Jacob Lawrence, the prints of Elizabeth Catlett, and racial pluralism of Winold Reiss.  

It was during this course that I was introduced to art in a different medium: a vehicle for expression, a form of social realism, and a tool to revolutionize stereotypes and social injustices. After this class, I applied to undertake a Museum Studies Certificate with the Bridging Disciplines Program, where Chambers continued to be my mentor and pushed me to explore my interest in art and curatorial work. Later, I applied to be a gallery attendant at the Christian Green Gallery with the Art Galleries at Black Studies. As a gallery attendant, I was able to learn more about museum representation and the responsibility we all have in it. Now in New York City, I can access these artists and work toward the future of expression and representation in all forms. I am forever grateful for the perspective of this course, and for what Chambers taught me and the wisdom he shared with me—and continues to share at UT. 

—Maggie White, BBA ’20, Life Member

In 1957, a course called “Posture and Basic Movement” taught me how to dance, walk, relax (total relaxation, deep breathing).Excellent course. 

—Frances Starling Boesch, ’58 

“History of the Women’s Rights Movement” in early 1980s! The professor that taught it reminded me of Janis Joplin, and when you walked in the auditorium, she was always blaring “Piece of My Heart.” 

—Wendy Bilich, BS ’87 

My junior year I hadn’t signed up for a PE class, hoping the “powers that be” wouldn’t notice. They did, and I was slapped in the only class left that spring … “Beginning Golf.” I was SO angry at myself for not taking bowling (at the Student Union lanes) or a dance class conveniently on campus. Instead, our lessons were on the intramural field at 3 p.m.—the hottest time of the day, and like most of my classmates, I had never even picked up a golf club. But our instructor was so patient and helpful that I actually liked the game. I started playing that par-3 on Lamar at Riverside and continued as long as I lived in Austin. Playing golf has taken me to some of the prettiest locales in the world and was invaluable in fitting into the male world of corporate finance. I still enjoy playing more than 50 years later and now realize and appreciate how much I saved with a semester of free golf lessons! 

—Marty Wynne, BJ ’72, Life Member 

Let’s Get Physical  

I took Red Cross swimming lessons growing up, graduated as a swim instructor and later lifeguard. I thought swimming for PE would be a great way to get some exercise. And so, after being a bit mesmerized by the swim center, I joined “Conditioning by Swimming”—the most interesting PE elective I took. I slid in and took off using my Red Cross-trained American Crawl as perfectly as I could produce the strokes. The instructor stopped me on my return trip. “What are you doing? You want to get across the pool and on only a couple of breaths.” I look around and everyone is streaking across the pool, doing flipturns at the wall like professional swimmers. After class, I talked to the instructor. “I think I signed up for the wrong class. I thought this was conditioning by swimming. Just getting some exercise from swimming. It seems I’m in a class with the swim team.” He explained that, basically, I was, but the course was open to anyone who wanted to use swimming to condition. I was welcome to stay and would be graded on my personal achievements and improvements. I stuck it out, learned to flip, and to only breathe a couple of times.  

I feel this is a good representation of my growth during my time at UT. I had to look at my classes as my own personal challenges, where I assessed where I started and then looked back to see how I had grown and improved. That is reality. That is life. No matter what we take on, we must assess where we are and what we know and then meet the challenges presented, and in the end, see where we are and what we’ve accomplished.  

—Kimberly Stewart, BS ’88, Life Member 

 
 
 

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