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During the Fall semester of 2020, the first-year seminar, “Zen and Art,” was offered to incoming freshmen. Created and taught by Howard Tran, professor of art and chair of the department at Lycoming College, the course provides students with an introduction to Zen philosophy, and teaches them about meditation to better their psychological structure as they embark on a bachelor’s degree.
Tran created this seminar with the intention of going beyond regular instruction of spiritual philosophy and applying it to practical and real-life endeavors. “This course combines the Buddhist culture of my youth and my dedication as an artist. I find art and Zen to be similar — a search for truth. Meditating and creating art are spiritual processes that can lead to finding one’s true nature/true self,” he said.
The purpose of the seminar is to explore a new philosophy of life while relating it to art and life. It means to explore meditation and discover whether Zen and art can create a path to a happier life. The course is also designed to improve critical thinking and communication skills while introducing students to college-level reading and writing assignments. The class met twice weekly with one day dedicated to student-led discussions, and the other to creating art based on that week’s lesson. Every class started with a five-minute meditation session, and each discussion day had a five-minute stream-of-consciousness writing session.
“Zen and Art” is one of many Lycoming College First-Year Seminars, all of which offer students an opportunity to explore unfamiliar topics. Their purpose is to broaden minds and help students discover a new interest. Each First-Year Seminar meets a general education requirement, helping to advance students toward graduation. Other first-year seminars include “Freakonomics,” “Medieval Food and Culture,” and many more.