Car crazy: CentreTerm class looks at effects of America's automotive dependence
RELEASED: Feb. 2, 2006
DANVILLE, KYWhat is it about Americans and their cars? How did America become defined by its relationship to the automobile? What's the impact of this relationship on American culture and the environment? What are the alternatives to our dependence on cars for personal transportation?
Mike Barton, professor of biology, explored these and other questions in his freshman studies course "Your Automobile, Our Environment," part of CentreTerm, Centre's intensive three-week January term.
Barton says he wanted his freshmen to come away from his class with "a greater appreciation for the impact of the automobile on the development of our culture, and how that course of cultural development has dramatically impacted our environment." Further, he hopes his students will "gain a greater awareness of the technology associated with minimizing the environmental impact of the automobile and become more receptive to alternative lifestyles that are less dependent on personal modes of transportation."
"An automobile is one of those things that everyone uses, but not many people know how it works," says Ted Wright of Nashville, Tenn. "I already knew the basics, but this class filled in the gaps for me. Also, I knew that cars polluted, but I had no idea how much. This class has opened my eyes to the strong need for alternatives, whether it's fuel or lifestyles."
Lindsey Maurer of Florence, Ky. describes the course as "a wonderful, eye-opening experience. We began the course by discovering exactly how the internal combustion engine and other automobile features work, focusing on chemical and mechanical processes. Although I had very little experience in these areas, Dr. Barton explained them in a way that made perfect sense. I even began to understand the engine problems I've had with my own car!"
The class was grounded in readings from J.H. Kay's book, Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back, but discussions and student presentations explored a variety of automobile- and environment-related topics.
"The discussions were great," says Aaron Pawley of Elizabethtown, Ky. "With presentations for nearly the entire last week of classes, the students had a chance to teach the class and to provide perspectives on alternative power sources, the history of roads, mass transit, even auto insurance."
Pawley, who plans to study chemistry, says he'd recommend the class to "to anyone, especially to car buffs, to history buffs, and chemistry and biology majors."
James Zellmer of Paducah, Ky. says the course "put many controversial topics like global warming, peak oil, and American consumerism, into perspective. For example, it's no surprise that the world is running out of oil and it's going to take a collective effort to decrease dependence on this addictive substance."
In addition to on-campus lectures and presentations, the class traveled to the Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky. to watch Corvettes and Cadillac XLRs being built. Zellmer says he was "amazed at the ingenuity" of the manufacturing process, and thinks the Corvette is "truly an amazing machine."Adds Maurer: "This course challenged us to think about how our actions and decisions affect our world as a whole. We learned various ways to improve the automobile industry in terms of environmental impact, and we discussed problems and obstacles that must be overcome before significant progress can be made. The class presented a subject that was entirely new to me, but I feel that I've learned enough to make more informed decisions and attempt to raise awareness. I plan to study some of the topics in greater detail and I'm actually considering urban planning as a possible career path."
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