A Time to Explore
From the importance of insects, to the history all around us, to patient care across the language barrier, students ventured into the unknown.
By Jerry Salley ’90
Each May, Furman students have the chance to follow their curiosity into an immersive, three-week course during May Experience. These are just a few of the topics students explored this past spring.
Meet the beetles – and the dragonflies, and the grasshoppers
While many in South Carolina do their best to keep insects as far away from themselves as possible, Wade Worthen’s MayX students were busy doing the opposite. Half of their final grade depended on it.
Worthen, the Rose J. Forgione Professor of Biology, hopes his Insect Diversity students come away with an appreciation of the ecological and economic impact of insects, along with their variety and ubiquity.
“Insects constitute about half the species that we’ve identified on our planet,” he says. “So, to study diversity, you really need to study insects. They are ecologically important in myriad ways and economically important as pests of agricultural crops and pollinators of a lot of our foodstuffs.”
The class often hunted on campus in the woods behind Daniel Chapel as well as in the Furman Forest in the Blue Wall Preserve in northeast Greenville County. Much of the collecting was done with a net, but some specimens had to be coaxed out with tools like a Berlese funnel (or Tullgren funnel), which uses light to force organisms from a soil sample down into a collection bottle. Students could also use pitfall traps or ultraviolet light to add to their collections.
“As the class ended, I was familiar with their importance as detritivores and pollinators while also being able to identify, classify and display these different insect orders and families,” says Austyn Feigenbaum ’24. “Everything discussed about insects in the course was new to me.”
Seeking Abraham and finding Furman’s hidden histories
It does not take place overseas, but one MayX course does introduce its students to a land that may suddenly seem foreign to them: their own campus.
The Seeking Abraham tour can make people feel like they’re seeing Furman for the first time, says Brandon Inabinet, a professor of communication studies who teaches the Multimodal Interpretive Strategy course along with Alyson Farzad-Phillips, assistant professor of communication studies. The tour visits several campus landmarks, with a guide narrating their “hidden histories” by relating historical facts and anecdotes. The tour traces the university’s growth from its pre-Civil War founding through its recent reckoning with its racial legacy and connections to slavery.
“Before the class, I thought I had decent background knowledge on campus,” says Alexandra Bussom ’24. “But over the last three weeks, I have gained an awareness of how the experiences of African Americans have impacted the university into the present day.”
The Seeking Abraham tour grew out of Furman’s Task Force on Slavery and Justice, which was formed in 2017 to recognize the roles enslaved people played in the school’s founding and growth. Among many other recommendations, the task force’s “Seeking Abraham” report suggested renaming or adding signage to several campus sites to acknowledge those contributions. Inabinet created the Seeking Abraham walking tour to visit seven of those campus sites.
The first stop is the Cherrydale Alumni House, a plantation home and the workplace of the report’s namesake, Abraham Sims, a family servant of James C. Furman, the school’s first president. The tour proceeds to sites including Joseph Vaughn Plaza, honoring the university’s first Black undergraduate; and the Furman Bell Tower, which holds the original bell (relocated from the old downtown campus) rung by enslaved and formerly enslaved people.
An online tour was posted in 2017, and Inabinet started leading tours in person in 2021.
Although some of history’s lessons may be painful, it’s important that the Seeking Abraham tour also pay tribute to positive African American experiences at Furman, says Inabinet.
Modern minds examine an ancient discipline
How could an ancient practice, with roots in Eastern philosophies that emphasize simplicity, transform into an industry marked by expensive props, clothing and lifestyle retreats?
To find out, Diane Boyd, associate dean of faculty development, executive director of the Faculty Development Center and certified yoga instructor, challenged her MayX students to look back to another millennium.
As yoga spread to the West at the turn of the 20th century – sometimes practiced by contortionists in sideshows – the discipline of the mind became overshadowed by the discipline of the body, says Boyd.
“The whole point of the physical practice is to release tensions and tire out the body somewhat so that the mind can settle into a more meditative state,” she says.
Lia Gaw Ghie Paw ’23 learned that there’s no age restriction on yoga. “A woman who has been practicing came up to me and told me, ‘I am 65, and I have been doing this for 10 years,’” she says, “and she was killing it at the hot yoga practice.”
Keeping patient care from being lost in translation
Britany Bonilla-Martinez ’24 knows how a language gap feels.
“I first came to the U.S. when I was 5, and I remember feeling scared, embarrassed and frustrated that I could not express my thoughts and feelings,” says the health sciences major, who was born in Costa Rica. “When patients come into a doctor’s office, they are in a very
vulnerable state, and knowing they may not be able to communicate with their provider can be frustrating and an additional stressor for them.”
Since 2014, Maria Rippon, an associate professor of Spanish, has led the MayX Beginner Medical Spanish course with help from her sister, Dr. Mary B. Rippon, a surgical oncologist and clinical assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, and Roberto Martinez, manager of language services with Prisma Health Upstate.
Bonilla-Martinez and her classmates spent mornings in the classroom, covering Spanish terms in anatomy, chief complaints, medical exams, diagnostic tests, diet and nutrition. In the afternoons, they rotated through different Prisma pediatric and OB-GYN clinics, as well as the emergency department of Greenville Memorial Hospital, spending three four-hour shifts with language services professionals working with patients.
Rippon hopes her students leave the class understanding that even making an effort to connect across a language barrier can go a long way toward healing.
But patient care goes deeper than bridging a language gap, says Bonilla-Martinez, who is planning a career as a physician assistant.
“It is also about advocating for your patients, taking the time to learn about their culture and creating an atmosphere where they feel comfortable speaking up,” she says.
Photos by Jeremy Fleming ’08