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Class based on bridge collapse created

The collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge has drastically impacted campus life in the past month. However, starting this fall, the effects from the Aug. 1 disaster will be felt in a new place: the classroom.

“The River, The Bridge, The Community: Beyond the headlines of the I-35W bridge collapse” is a course offered this semester by the urban studies department. Patrick Nunnally, a research associate, is teaching the class.

“We’ve set a land speed record in terms (of getting) this up,” he said. “From getting a course imagined to listed, (there’s been a) huge amount of cooperation.”

Nunnally, who has taught past courses on the subject of the Mississippi River, said the idea for a class relating to the bridge collapse was a collective decision. A group of faculty members from several different departments conceived the idea at a previously scheduled meeting, just a week and a half after the tragedy.

“Really, there wasn’t any single person that said ‘we’ve got to do this,’ ” he said.

Instead, the group decided jointly to formulate the course.

Nunnally said the class will feature a variety of guest speakers, from the University’s own colleges but also from non-University professionals like the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The class will have an extensive discussion component and students will be required to write reflection pieces and complete a course-related research project.

Judith Martin, the director of the urban studies program and a University geography professor, is a member of the initial class-forming group.

Although the class is offered in the urban studies department, it has a broad appeal, Martin said.

“It’s really pitched to students who are interested in how something like (the bridge collapse) could happen,” she said. “It’s important to pay attention to this because it’s literally in our backyard.”

As a whole, the urban studies program has a history of adjusting its courses from semester to semester based on current events, she said.

Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education, said he hopes the course

will “stimulate a broader thinking and a broader discussion” with regard to the bridge collapse.

Swan said this is not the first time a last-minute class addition has happened.

“I think every year there are a couple Ö but I would say the collapse of the 35W bridge is a pretty unprecedented event,” he said.

Swan said his office was providing “modest funding” for a quarter-time TA for the course. “That is a relatively unique event,” as the vice provost’s office doesn’t often get involved in that capacity, Swan said.

Would you take a class on the 35W bridge collapse?

Heidi Hamberger, a music performance senior said the class “definitely sounds like something that’s interesting” but she wouldn’t be likely to take it because she is already signed up for her last year of classes at the University.

“The difficulty of putting a class together right before school starts is that nobody knows about it,” Nunnally said. At press time Sunday, two of the class’s 30 seats were filled according to the One Stop Web site.

Nunnally said the course needs a minimum enrollment of 15 for the class to be held at all.

“If lectures like this were open to the public, I’d definitely be interested to go,” Hamberger said.

According to Nunnally the lecture series component of the course, tentatively scheduled for Tuesdays at 5 p.m., will be open to members of the University and the public at large. Only the class meeting on Mondays from 2:30­ until 3:45 will be limited to registered students.

Karen Rezikyan, a graduate student studying business taxation, said he wasn’t so sure that the class would have the interdisciplinary appeal faculty members have touted.

Rezikyan said it would be difficult for students without backgrounds in related areas, such as bridge construction, to have academic discussions about them.

He said the class might fit some majors but it’s “not for all students.”

As for Hamberger, she said a class on the bridge collapse could be beneficial for students.

“I do think it’s a really great opportunity for students at this university because we are more closely affected by it,” she said.

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