Indre Cuplinskas (left) teaches the Catholic Studies seminar that all participants in the AcademiaOne program, like Liam Key take in their first year.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Indre Cuplinskas (left) teaches the Catholic Studies seminar that all participants in the AcademiaONE program, like Liam Kay take in their first year.

February 20, 2012
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

First year art student Liam Kay is glad he enrolled in AcademiaONE as he began his university education last semester.

"It's been very good," he said. "The classes were good and the professors were accessible. It was a good way to transition to the university experience."

AcademiaONE, offered by St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta, is an integrated program of first year courses and seminars aimed at exploring and discussing key themes in the relationship between Western culture and Catholicism. It's offered exclusively to first year arts students.

The program accepts a maximum of 40 students in special course sections of classics, history, philosophy and English literature. It offers three courses in both the fall and winter semesters.

BREADTH OF TRADITION

At the core of the program is a Catholic Studies' seminar that looks at the breadth of the Catholic tradition and brings it into conversation with other aspects of the liberal arts. The maximum number of students allowed in the seminar is 20.

Kay, who will major in English, has been in AcademiaONE for six months. He is one of only six students enrolled in the program this year. Like all first-year art students, he was invited by email to join the program.

He liked the fact the program offered classes that were of interest to him, such as philosophy and history, and that accepts a maximum of 40 students. "I appreciate that because in my first semester I was in a class with 80 students and, with a class that big, it gets a little bit difficult to have access to your professors."

Those enrolled in the program share all the classes "and so you get to know people in the first year," Kay said.

Many universities in North America are now offering cohort programs like AcademiaOne for students who want more structured courses and smaller classes, said professor Indre Cuplinskas, who teaches the Catholic Studies seminar.

Cuplinskas said universities have come to realize that even Catholic students didn't have a sense of the breadth of the Catholic tradition. St. Joseph's started offering the program in conjunction with the Faculty of Arts in 2006. An average of 20 students enroll in the program yearly.

The aim of the AcademiaONE is "to present the courses in a more holistic way so that students would learn about Catholicism and how it's manifested in art, in literature, in all kinds of different areas," Cuplinskas said.

The program introduces students to the Catholic culture, which is one of the aims of the college and also the aim of the Church, said college president Basilian Father Terry Kersch. "It allows us to have that dialogue between the culture and the intellectual tradition of the Church."

COLLEGE INVOLVEMENT

Additional benefits of offering the program is that students get introduced to the college, which in turn helps to grow the college's community, Cuplinskas said. Many students get deeply involved in the college's activities and some even move to the college's residence.

The main challenge is to attract more students to the program.

"We want to get more students and the big challenge is making students aware of the program before they come to the university," noted Kersch. "Usually when they become aware, it's too late; they've already finished their first year. It's an ongoing difficulty."

CATHOLIC HISTORY

Kay said he's gotten to know all the other students enrolled in AcademiaONE. That was a good thing because he comes from High Level and didn't know anybody at the university.

He is not a Catholic but did take a course on Catholic history in the first semester "and I did learn a lot about the history of the Church and I found that interesting," he said.

"It's an interesting history and definitely it's an interesting religion."

For more information on AcademiaONE, call Hana Irving, assistant to the academic dean, at 780-492-7681, ext. 231 or write to hana.irving@ualberta.ca.