The Politics of Transformation

Gretchen Van Dyke, Ph.D., (seated, third from left) is joined by members of the first EU class of 1996 representing Sweden.

Learning is an accretive process, a gradual building up of knowledge over time. Transformation, however, is sudden, dramatic, a lightning strike that makes a person completely new. Transformation is what comes to mind when students of Dr. Gretchen Van Dyke’s “PS 331: The European Union” talk about the experience.

“The seminar seemed like an intense workload that involved a LOT of public speaking, something that terrified me,” said Heather Leo ’97, who took the course in 1996, the first time it was offered. “Dr. Van Dyke, however, was sure I was up to the task and thought it would help me gain confidence in my communication skills. I trusted her instincts and found that I became very passionate about the role I was assigned. I soon felt less awkward and actually began to enjoy sharing my opinion.” 

Keri Taylor ’10 took the course in 2009. “I was nervous, timid and self-conscious at the beginning ...but by the second day of the simulation, my confidence level was light years beyond where it was when I first began. I really came out of my shell.” Leo and Taylor are talking about the crown jewel of the course, the European Union (EU) simulation that occurs in Washington, D.C., each fall. The simulation demands that students inhabit an “alter ego,” including actual members of the European Parliament (MEP), the legislative body of the EU. During the simulation, students representing various EU member states debate proposed legislation. Throughout the three-day event, students are challenged to sharpen their rhetoric, deploy strategy and outfox the villains, all while thinking and speaking as their alter ego would.

During his simulation, PJ Tabit ’11 was Bendt Bendtsen, a conservative member of the Danish delegation. Becoming Bendtsen did not demand acting so much as it required meticulous research and the self-discipline to replace his own arguments with those of Bendtsen. 

“The class is about more than just the European Union, your assigned country or any of the particular academic information you gather during the semester,” Tabit said. “That’s all valuable, but the class’s true strength lies in the opportunity to think strategically and work with your colleagues, both those who agree with you and those who don’t, to achieve a shared goal.” 

Editor’s Note: Read the full article in the Scranton Journal online.