The Human Odyssey Student Experience

Kat Grilli, Auburn University 2010

I ride a scooter to school. Not a motorized scooter, or a Vespa, but a Razor scooter that I push with my feet, the kind that were so popular with little kids a few years back. It is convenient, as it folds up into a blunt metal instrument about two feet long, and if I needed to defend myself with my folded-up scooter, I could. I don’t ride my scooter for protection, though. I don’t do this for environmental reasons either, although I do appreciate the benefits of not wasting fossil fuels. Nor do I do it because it makes me look cool, because contrary to what you may think, my coolness-factor is not increased by pushing a child’s toy through campus. No, no, the reason that I ride my scooter to class is much simply- I have very short legs, my classes are very far apart, and I hate to be late.

You are now thinking, "What a strange way to begin an essay. This doesn’t answer the prompt at all!" I promise, it is germane to my answer, so just hang in there.

I first recognized my need for a scooter when I started taking Human Odyssey. I had a theatre class in a building all the way across campus, and sometimes, thanks to the theatre teachers’ penchant for keeping us after the end of class, I only had four or five minutes to get to Human Odyssey. In case you didn’t attend Auburn University, Human Odyssey is basically a history class that traces the course of human existence through technology, language, science, and art. Instead of focusing, like other history courses do, on who conquered who, or what battles were fought, the course looks at the development of life as we know it and how we got to this particular place in history. The battles and the conquering are all there, but on the fringes, never in the limelight. The important things are the advancements, the progress, both in technology and in new ideas, that mankind made.

The really interesting thing about Human Odyssey, aside from the subject matter, is the way the class is taught. Each section of Human Odyssey is taught by two professors, one who teaches a science-related course, like biology, engineering, or mat, and the other who deals in humanities, such as art, English, or even architecture. In my class, the professors were Dr. Mendonca, Biologist Extraordinaire, and Dr. Sutton, who taught English as well as chaos. Dr. Mendonca is a woman who believes firmly in her students, in the power of their minds, and in the importance of serious classroom discussion as a teaching method. Dr. Sutton drew stick figures on the board to illustrate evolution, used wit and sarcasm to diffuse arguments, and had but to look at his students for us to start laughing. In the early days of the class, I wondered if Dr. Mendonca had been brought in as Dr. Sutton’s collaborator or his guard to make sure he didn’t incite a rebellion with his wicked ways.

You are now thinking, "Why is this girl’s scooter involved in this essay?"

It was my scooter that made me realize the power that these two teachers had to compel thought and reason from their students. One day, having arrived to class with my scooter in tow, Dr. Sutton got a mischievous glint in his eye, and asked me if he might examine my scooter. After agreeing with some trepidation, he took it from me, found the catches and knobs that turned my lump of metal into a scooter again, and went coasting down the hallway, sliding gleefully over the linoleum at top speed. As Dr. Mendonca and various other students watched, Dr. Sutton did a lap around the hallways on my scooter before returning it to me with a breathless, "Thanks!"

"Have a good ride, David?" Dr. Mendonca asked, grinning at her colleague.

Dr. Sutton laughed and said something in return that I didn’t hear.

As I sat in class that day, I watched as Dr. Sutton illustrated the suggested stages of bipedal evolution by lurching around the classroom like Quasimodo. I listened as Dr. Mendonca talked about the ages and interpretations of bones found to make up an Australopithecus skeleton. I realized, watching my professors, that although they may have some disparity between their occupations and methods of teaching, both of them were reaching us. Every student in the class was engaged and learning, even while we were being entertained by Dr. Sutton’s antics or impressed by Dr. Mendonca’s abilities to recall facts, figures, and article names at the drop of a pin. The thing that Dr. Mendonca and Dr. Sutton made clear was that we, all of us, are a part of the human odyssey, mankind’s journey through time, and that it is our responsibility to make the journey worthwhile. This has never been made clearer to me than in that classroom with those two professors who did not let their different disciplines, attitudes, or methods of teaching prevent them from teaching a new generation of pilgrims how to learn from the footsteps of others as we continue the journey, the voyage through time.

And to think, you thought this was a story about my scooter.

Last Updated: May 2, 2012