In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In the third instalment of the series, Q visits Allison Zengilowski ’17, a Psychology and Peace & Conflict Studies major for a dance rehearsal. Allison shares her passion for dance and talks about her involvement with online education.
To me, dancers have always been creatures of another world. I remember gaping at girls in pink fluffy dresses, envying the way the could do pirouettes so effortlessly and elegantly. So it was with excitement, and hesitation, that I joined Benton Scholar Allison Zengilowski ’17, President of the Colgate Dance Initiative (CDI), during a rehearsal with FUSE (which stands for Fierce, Unusual, Sexy, and Eclectic) Dance Company.
Right now, Allison is co-choreographing a piece for one of Colgate’s most popular events of the year: Dancefest. Despite her ambitious and busy schedule, this extra work nonetheless helps Allison cope with the challenges of student life. “Sometimes I have a hard time expressing what I am feeling or knowing what I need to do to cope with the stress that I sometimes fall victim to. It is incredibly therapeutic to get into the studio after a long day and to focus on creating something with a group of brilliant people,” Allison said.
Before coming to Colgate, Allison actually had 13 years of ballet experience. “In ballet, you are constantly comparing yourself to others, so it is easy to get caught up in the mentality of ‘Why don’t I look like her? Would I get more corrections, better parts if I was skinnier?’ ” While Allison admits that the ballet world is harsh towards dancers’ bodies, and has personally struggled with body issues, she has learnt to focus more on perfecting steps and performance quality thanks to her mom, who pursued a formal ballet program in college. As a result, Allison values her body more as an instrument and a means to communicate.
Allison’s passion for and commitment to dance carries into other parts of her life, too. After taking an online course as part of the Benton Scholars’ 2014 summer project, and later being involved in a symposium about online education, she and four other ’17 Bentons helped Professor Karen Harpp redesign and administer her course, Advent of the Atomic Bomb, offered as a seminar for the Benton Scholars program. Dubbed the “Bomb Squad” (they even have a team t-shirt!), they introduced changes to enhance the interaction and level of engagement between students and alumni. “We cleaned up the edX Edge platform to make it a bit more user friendly, we shortened the video lectures, added comprehension questions, implemented a video presentation (Fireside Chats), created small discussion groups, and incorporated a WordPress blog.”
After the course ended, Allison and Benton Scholar Sid Wadhera ’17 worked with Prof. Harpp to analyze and evaluate those changes. “Students reported a much higher confidence with their understanding of the ethical content surrounding the bomb than the alumni did. I believe this is telling of how ethical content is much more difficult to communicate and to learn through an online platform and without peers with whom to discuss the issues,” she said. Over fall break, she and Sid presented their findings at Learning with MOOCs II, an international conference held at Teachers College, Columbia University. They were the only undergraduate presenters. “It was interesting to see large research institutions patting themselves on the back for trying to model small liberal arts colleges like Colgate,” she mused.
Right now, the “Bomb Squad” is serving as TAs for the first-year seminar, Emerging Global Challenges, where the incoming Benton class is grappling with the future of education and technology by producing their own two-week MOOC, called BreadX. Using bread as a lens, this course will encourage middle school (and older!) students to ask important questions—about poverty, global food supplies, industrial farming, water supplies, gender roles, and global warming.
“Overall, I have been challenged, frustrated, but also rewarded by tackling online education. Being at the forefront of an emerging field…I hope to continue pushing the boundaries of online education while also learning more about how people are interacting with the medium to make it the most effective means … to learn new information,” Allison said. “I initially believed online education to be a fad that had very little merit. However, while working directly on a class, I’ve come to realize that online education can serve as a worthwhile means through which to acquire knowledge. I do not believe we will ever be able to truly replicate a Colgate classroom, but I hope to imbue a bit of Colgate into online education.”
Stretching, kneeling, and attempting the grand jeté will not transform me into a lithe dancer in time for Dance Fest. But will I see you in BreadX?