Virginia Ball Center celebrates 10 years of innovative education

Topic: Immersive Learning

October 6, 2010

"Innovative," "unique" and "life-changing" are descriptions you'll hear from faculty and students who've participated in a decade's worth of semester-long seminars at Ball State's Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry (VBC). To celebrate VBC's 10 years of transformative immersive learning experiences, an open house is scheduled for 2 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Kitselman Center, 3149 W. University Ave. The Ball State and Muncie communities are invited to attend.

Bringing together the best resources

Joe Trimmer, director of the VBC, says one of the greatest rewards of leading the center is "seeing how talented our undergraduate students can be when given an opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary setting with other students."

Each year, four faculty members are chosen to lead 15 students in VBC seminars, all of which produce a wide range of creative projects with a community focus. Past examples of award-winning VBC productions include "State of Assault," an Emmy-winning documentary film focused on the medical, legal and psychological challenges faced by victims of sexual assault; "Navigating Nature," a computer game revealing the problems of sustaining natural environments and winner of an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, and "The Other Side of Middletown," a book recording the history of Muncie's African-American community and winner of the Margaret Mead Award for Outstanding Research by the American Anthropology Association.

Trimmer said a survey conducted by the center found 97 percent of VBC students said participating in a seminar was the most significant experience of their college years. Jenny Shea was a freshman when she participated in Beth Messner's spring 2005 VBC seminar, Learning from the Legacy of Hate.

"I think the VBC brings together the best resources Ball State has to offer — it allows faculty to be at their most creative, allows people of different majors to get exposure to other fields and introduces us to the incredible physical resources of the university," said Shea, a 2008 Ball State graduate who works for Washington, D.C.'s Capital Area Food Bank.

An immersive learning model

Melinda Messineo was faculty mentor for a spring 2008 VBC seminar focused on cyber communities and constructed realities. She and her students researched and produced a mixed-world play and graphic novel investigating how virtual selves and communities compare with real selves and communities.

"Unless you've done a VBC seminar, you can't describe the arc of experience it offers you," Messineo said. "At the end, you're made keenly aware of the difference of the traditional classroom environment and how an immersive model like a VBC seminar is set up."

Messineo said her present and future courses have been forever changed by her VBC experience. Since her seminar, she has been involved with two other immersive learning experiences.

Trimmer said VBC founder Virginia B. Ball would be moved by the depth of the work and the talent of the students who've participated in VBC seminars. A philanthropist and active supporter of education, the environment, humanities and the arts, Ball established the center in 2000, three years before her death. Operation of the VBC is sustained by subsequent gifts from the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Foundation.

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