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To Not Lose Them At The Beginning: Nature And Human Values As A Writing Intensive Course

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.586.1 - 3.586.7

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Jon A. Leydens

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2761

To Not Lose Them at the Beginning: Nature and Human Values as a Writing-Intensive Course

Jon A. Leydens Colorado School of Mines

On the first day of classes in January of 1982, I was sitting in a first-year philosophy course in the Willard O. Eddy Building on the Colorado State University campus. A balding, elderly man in a worn gray sweater walked in and wrote the words “Willard O. Eddy, Introduction to Philosophy” on the board, and I wondered why he had told us the name of the building but not his own name.

He started the class by telling us about atomic scientist Enrico Fermi, whom he called one of the great teachers of our century. Fermi, he said, once noted that teaching is vitally important, especially at the undergraduate level, because if you lose the mind at the beginning, you may lose it forever. Then the nameless professor looked at us and said, “When I retired from this University, I wanted to keep on teaching. The department said I could select any course I wanted—graduate level, undergraduate, whatever.” I believe it was in that moment that most of us freshmen realized that the name written on the board referred both to the building we were in and the professor standing in front of us. “I chose this introductory course,” he continued, “because I want to kindle your desire to learn. I want to do everything I can to make sure we do not lose you at the beginning.”

Nature and Human Values (NHV) is a writing-intensive course in part because we at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) do not wish to lose our students at the beginning. This course introduces students to many of the tools they will need to meet the expectations for written communication in their academic and post-academic careers. Writing is also pivotal in this course since it provides a means for students to process the environmental, economic, and ethical ramifications of the issues they encounter in readings and in lectures as well as an opportunity to explore the issues they find most intriguing. Our hope is that the writing will kindle the kind of reflection and desire for learning that will enable students to become life-long learners and effective communicators. By that last phrase we do not wish to imply that we aim to produce novelists or poets, though those too are worthy endeavors; rather, we intend to avoid the tragedy of talent embedded in the following statement by George Heilmeier, corporate executive at Bellcore: Communication skills are extremely important. Unfortunately, both written and oral skills are often ignored in engineering schools, so today we have many engineers with excellent ideas and a strong case to make, but they don’t know how to make that case. If you can’t make the case, no matter how good the science and technology may be, you’re not going to see your ideas reach fruition.1

Our course—and a significant portion of the CSM curriculum—is founded on the idea that when students have both a solid technical and scientific background and the ability to convey their

Leydens, J. A. (1998, June), To Not Lose Them At The Beginning: Nature And Human Values As A Writing Intensive Course Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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