Guest speakers bring a change of pace to any learning environment. In the College
of Humanities and Social Sciences, two professors walk into a classroom, but it’s
a high school classroom: Kyle Anne Nelson, Ph.D., MPH, professor and chair of the
Sociology department and Chris Talbot, Ph.D., professor of Gender Studies.
They’re exploring deep topics in social studies and social sciences in the high school
setting, like Black women’s suffrage, immigration and the construction of gender.
Usually in this setting, schools may not always explore these topics in the same ways
as university faculty because of resource constraints or politicization. Talbot and
Nelson aren’t trying to replace their curriculum but expand on it.
“We’re in a political climate nationwide where gender studies and sociology topics
are not the typical reading, writing, arithmetic, that basic curricula,” said Nelson.
It started with a provost grant and a dream of connection. Connection between the
Weld County school system and the University of Northern Colorado (UNC). Students
might be intimidated by or feel clueless about college, but having a face-to-face
lecture from a professor can give them insight into what college is actually like.
The two reached out to area teachers and provided a list of topics and dates for teachers
to request their own visits from the professors. The visits needed to be relevant,
helpful and additive to the teachers.
“The kinds of things I’m doing with [the high school students] in the classroom are
the same kinds of things I do with my [college] students in the classroom…That gets
some students to envision college as something that is for them,” said Talbot.
Now Nelson and Talbot have been invited back to schools by more teachers to lecture
to their classes. The lectures always relate to what the usual teacher is discussing
and promote critical thinking. One of Talbot’s lectures, which she calls “Gender at
Play,” really helps students go beyond day-to-day analytical learning.
“I present them with some ads, and they do the analysis…[about] what does that actually
tell us about how we’re thinking about gender and how genders are being enculturated
into culture,” said Talbot.
Instead of regurgitating information, students interact with Nelson and Talbot, finding
their voices and sometimes, seeing themselves represented.
“There are people there who are immigrants or children of immigrants from all over
the world. It’s a very unique thing to do and it’s really difficult and sometimes
really worthwhile,” said Nelson about her immigration lecture.
The pair have found that basic curriculum can also miss some of the nuances of history,
and the historical narrative presented can be flat and at times, deceptive.
“One of the things that tends to happen in the telling of the narrative of history
is citizenship gets more and more expansive over time. But Black women are systemically
excluded from the women’s suffrage movement,” said Talbot, describing her lecture
about Black women’s suffrage.
Her lecture opened the door for one high school history teacher to link systemic racism
to the failure of reconstruction and the need for the civil rights movement. "He was
pretty happy that [it] was sort of an entry point for him to be able to talk more
about those kinds of things.”
Nelson and Talbot aim to involve more faculty by creating a process professors can
follow when they want to connect with high schools in Weld County. Having a process
makes the experience accessible across departments at UNC and allows for even more
Students also receive admissions information about UNC programs, but the goal is to
enhance their education and present the idea that college is accessible to anyone.
It’s more about knowing that there is a college that can support them, and that college
has professors that will help them grow.
Even though the logistics can be challenging, Nelson and Talbot keep bringing UNC
folders and their compelling lectures, all while connecting with a completely different
set of students.
“I keep emphasizing [to the students], now you know someone at UNC,” said Nelson.
– written by Brenna Rhiness