Canisius Professor Integrates Jesuit Mission into Travel Photography Course

By Kristin Etu, Assistant Director of Public Relations, Canisius College

Students interacting with locals and enjoying a musical performer in a neighborhood restaurant in Naples, Italy (photo: Canisius College)


Students interacting with locals and enjoying a musical performer in a neighborhood restaurant in Naples, Italy (photo: Canisius College)

The Ratio Studiorum of 1599 stated the objectives for Jesuit education and provided the roadmap for the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, which embodies the following five key objectives: context, experience, reflection, action and evaluation.    

Canisius College Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts/Studio Art Thomas Wolf, MFA believes it is essential to incorporate values from the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm into his courses. He teaches travel photography, and as part of his course offerings, takes students to cities along Italy’s Amalfi Coast. 

“I hope students not only learn photography skills in this course, but also understand how the process of taking a photograph will help them become a part of their community,” says Wolf. “I want them to understand better the world around them and to act responsibly as global citizens moving forward from life after graduation.” 

Context and Experience

At the start of the course, Wolf leads his students in discussions about their background travel experiences, their perceptions of Italy, and what their expectations are for the trip. While some students have studied abroad, others have never left the United States. Students have varied ideas about Italy – from “Italy is a place with good food” to “Italy is a place whose technology isn’t very advanced.” Wolf seeks to expand their horizons through his course. 

Reflection

Once the group arrives in Italy, Wolf sets the stage for student learning by engaging them with Italian culture in very specific ways. For example, students spend a morning picking grapes at a local farm. 

“During this interaction, students come to understand how people in Italy embrace the land,” says Wolf. “It’s not that the farmer picks the grapes by hand because he doesn’t have access to high-tech machinery. He wants to protect the grapes and pick them at their absolute ripest. No machine can do this. Only caring people can. During this process, students become aware of how Italians connect with the earth.”

Afterwards, the group joins together for a meal, which in Italy typically lasts up to three hours. 

“This is a big change for students because in North America, we take 45 minutes for lunch and quickly move on to the next task,” says Wolf. “Students start to socialize, enjoy each other’s company and interact with the Italian farmers, cooks and families with whom we visit. They realize there is a different way of doing things that is not necessarily better or worse than we do in America.” 

All these experiences will set the stage for how students choose to take photographs. 

“When they become actively engaged with their subjects, they create a point of view about it,” says Wolf. “They take those points of view and incorporate them into the artwork they create.”

In this case, the artwork is photography.

Students on the Walk of the Gods located on the Amalfi Coast (Photo: Canisius College)


Students on the Walk of the Gods located on the Amalfi Coast (Photo: Canisius College)

Action and Evaluation

Upon return from the trip, Wolf asks students how their perceptions of Italy have changed, and why they have changed. He says, “They will say things like ‘The food is great, but now I know why the food is great.’”

And he finds the students become inspired in several ways. Many choose to participate in campus ministry service immersion trips in other countries such as El Salvador. “There is a desire to take action and to be more of a citizen of the world rather than just a citizen of the city or the college campus,” he says.

One student, who never traveled before and was particularly shy, had an epiphany of sorts after visiting Italy and witnessing a different way of life. The student chose to enter the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), and later accepted a job with the JVC at a radio station in Nome, Alaska.

“Students ought to take what they learn in class and apply it in the real-world for the benefit of the common good. This is at the heart of a Jesuit education,” says Rev. Michael F. Tunney, S.J., director of mission and identity at Canisius College. 

“The concept dates back to when the Jesuits founded their first school in Messina, Sicily, in 1548. From the start, our schools were based on the principles of a student-centered education,” he explains. “Through this course, students not only learn about photography but they learn to be better people...because they go out and engage with the natural world and the community. They come to understand themselves and their own deeper, personal motivations.”

By integrating the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm into courses, a more student-centered environment is created and opportunities for creative engagement are maximized, according to Tunney, who has recommended how to better integrate the Jesuit mission into all 35 academic departments and programs at Canisius College.

Tunney concludes, “In Tom Wolf’s classes and in so many others, faculty are offering our students an invitation to engage Magis, to go deeper in their learning. They do this for their own academic progress through very discipline-specific material. They also do this to grow as persons of conscience and compassion, by their service and contributions to the world and people beyond our dome.”