Spotlight on Jim Davis: Building a sense of community
By Liza Scales
Jim Davis, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, loves working with college students, especially first-year students. “Helping them learn to discover themselves is an exciting process and fulfilling work as a teacher,” he says. “Specific demands are made on first-year students beyond academics.”
First-year student Kelsey Allen says Davis makes new students feel comfortable and equally accepted. “He’s the kind of professor you can drop in on and just chat, which really helped me adjust to college life. I am considering becoming a teacher, and I want to emulate his style because he has an amazing way of making discussions relatable to all students. Outside the classroom, he is a friend.”
Davis holds a dual professorship in the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies and in the Department of First Year Programs. “Having a joint appointment is tricky business,” he says. “My department chairs do a great job, and they are incredibly nice, talented people.”
Davis is also a member of the who run First-Year Learning Communities for incoming theatre and performance studies students at Kennesaw State University. “KSU is on the cutting edge of learning communities, which consist of 25 students who take three courses together in theatre performance studies,” Davis says. Those courses currently are 1101: Theater Performance Studies, 1500: Intro to Theatre, and 1107: Art. “Studying as a group across courses has great benefits for the students because they generally bond well, and retention is greater than for those who are not part of the community,” claims Davis.
Davis is excited about his learning community students and is planning some “creative and exciting activities” for the fall 2009 semester, including a visit to the campus by Paul Rogat Loeb, founder of the American Democracy Project, and a reading project of Loeb’s "Soul of a Citizen." ADP began in 2003 as an initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in partnership with the New York Times. It is a multi-campus initiative focused on the role of higher education in preparing the next generation of informed and engaged citizens in our democracy, and KSU is one of 231 participating colleges and universities. In this way, Davis immerses his students in the much larger community outside of KSU while helping his students feel valued.
Most recently, he directed Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at KSU. Davis says the production went really well for two reasons. “First, we have some really smart students!” he says, and second, reading Steve Martin’s book, “Born Standing UP: A Comic’s Life,” gave him a better insight in how to direct the play.
Davis also enjoys introducing his students to the surrounding area’s theatrical culture. In March, he is taking his students to see “Suddenly Last Summer” by Tennessee Williams at “Actor’s Express Theatre,” a group that offers original voices and new perspectives reflecting Atlanta's diverse and evolving identity. “Atlanta is the greatest place in the world, says Davis. “There is always something going on culturally.”Student Terry Guest raves about his first-year learning experience with Professor Davis. “He was fun, entertaining, knowledgeable, and firm—a perfect professor! I’m so glad he taught my first college course. Once, when we were unprepared for a lesson, he just sat and stared at us. It was so uncomfortable, but he made the point that if we weren’t going to take our work seriously, why should he do the same? From that day, we understood how much he cared and how important it was to be prepared for class and to take our responsibilities seriously.”