Through the Student Lens – Compass helps students forge their own paths to success

How do students take advantage of all that the Compass curriculum has to offer? How do they utilize Compass to make connections, advance their academic interests and broaden their Wheaton experience? Meet one student who has done just that and take a look Through the Student Lens.

Emmanuel Leal ’23
Double Major: Visual Art and Film and New Media Studies
Hometown: Flushing, NY

Can you explain what your First Year Experience (FYE) course was like and how you benefited?
I was a part of the first FYE, “Addressing Inequality in the U.S.” The course was part of the first implementation of the new curriculum, so there was still some modification that needed to occur, but overall, I had an enjoyable experience. There was a large number of students separated into four smaller groups, each led by one of the professors. We met in the large groups every once and a while, specifically in the beginning of the course and when we were working on the final project.

One of the biggest benefits of this course was meeting and connecting with four different professors from four different departments. The one I grew closest to was Professor Kelly Goff, who now is my academic advisor. I initially met him in passing when I was touring the college. But it was the class that gave me the ability to meet with him during his office hours to talk about the course and my interest in the arts. This meeting allowed me to learn more about the Art Department at Wheaton, and it especially helped me declare my major in visual art.

My meeting with Kelly also helped me get my job, as I was able to show my abilities in graphic design due to a project assigned in Kelly’s section of the class. Kelly showed my project to my current boss, Jessica Kuszaj, who offered me a job as an arts designer and arts staff member. Without my FYE, I most likely wouldn’t have connected with Wheaton’s Art Department as quickly as I did. In addition, it gave me more support systems that I wouldn’t have acquired otherwise: professors Winter Jade Werner (English), Lindsey Flynn (Political Science), and Karen McCormack (Sociology).

How was this experience different from other courses you have taken at Wheaton?
The main difference between this course and other courses I have taken is the number of students and professors. I know there are other courses that have a larger body of students, but due to my majors I tend to be in smaller classes. At the time, and even now, it’s still the largest class I have taken. Additionally, it was the only course at Wheaton that had four professors teaching the same course, which made sense because the material taught was from four different departments. Other courses focus only on the material and subject provided by that one department.

What is your favorite aspect of Compass?
My favorite aspect of Compass is the ability to explore and learn from different departments. I originally came to Wheaton with plans to only be a visual art major. My FYE solidified visual art as my first major, with the connection of my current academic advisor and the digital mural I created for that section of the class.

Yet, my FYE also sparked my interest in a possible second major in a different department. I saw different aspects from each department that I liked during my time in the class. In the English section I enjoyed reading and learning about the effects literature had on bringing awareness to the issues our society faces. I created a book with some of my classmates as our final project for the class, and I ended up reading it to the students at Wheaton’s Amen Nursery School. During the political science section of the class I enjoyed looking at statistics and evidence to come up with a potential policy that could create positive change in our society. My group decided to create a policy that will fight against the racial biases in mass incarceration. Finally, for sociology we learned about identifying patterns and effects in our society due to different issues. My project for that section allowed me to pitch why our society should focus on and support awareness for mental health.

I saw myself wanting to explore and continue learning outside of the Art department. So, I took a computer science class, an English class, and even a sociology class. In the end, my second major became Film and New Media Studies (FNMS). When you look at it, the requirements of the FNMS major are a mixture of four different departments. I ended up choosing a major that builds on multiple departments, much like Compass, and that allows me to gain skills from more than just one area of campus.

As a sophomore, how do you benefit from the programs and options of Compass?
Compass helped me see the connections between the different departments. It’s easy to think that courses like political science, sociology, English, and art have nothing in common, but my FYE easily disproved that. I was able to see how political science created policies and laws to deal with America’s injustice. I saw English used the power of books to spread awareness. In sociology I was able to see the effects these injustices had on our society. The arts shed light on those same injustices. I was able to build connections between four different departments around one topic.

Now as a sophomore, it’s easier to build connections between different subjects. One of the best examples of this was when I made a connection between the English and Art departments. When my Introduction to Tutoring Writing instructor assigned a project to figure out ways to improve the Writing Tutors program, I decided to use my talents in the arts to create a mural for the office. I also used my skills in graphic design to create a logo for the Writing Tutors website and an advertisement for the website that could be posted around campus. My FYE taught me how art can be used to create awareness, and I wanted to use the mural to create awareness for the writing tutors.

The Compass curriculum taught me that my skills and abilities in one subject can be translated and used in another.

How do you think Compass complements and engages the liberal arts education, and how would you recommend students take advantage of all Compass has to offer?
Liberal arts education focuses on creating a well-rounded student. The best way a student is able to figure out their interest and gain different viewpoints is by learning from different departments. In my case, I knew I wanted to be a visual art major since before I entered college. Yet, my FYE also gave me the opportunity to see if I liked or gained interest in other departments like English, Sociology, or Political Science. For a student who doesn’t know what they want to major in or study, the Compass curriculum is beneficial for the exploration of different studies an individual might have not thought about. The best recommendation I can give to students is to get to know the faculty. In my case, I was able to gain four support systems but I needed to make the decision to go out of my comfort zone and talk to them during office hours. Even after I finished the course I still found myself returning to the professors to talk about school, life, or personal problems. In addition, if something catches your eye during the course feel free to take an additional class after you finish. I ended up taking an English class my sophomore year and even became a writing tutor. Which is ironic because I originally had no intentions to touch an English class due to my prior experience with the subject in high school. It can be beneficial to explore and get out of one’s comfort zone, and it especially holds true for someone that is still discovering who they are.

Through the Student Lens

Emmanuel is just one of the many talented students here at Wheaton. As parents, you are an integral part of our community. Through the Student Lens brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and experiences they gain during the time here at Wheaton.