Students can spend their college careers learning about the world in a classroom, but Alan MacTaggert wants to teach them much more than that.
For the past three years, Georgia Regents University’s art department chairman has been leading students on trips to New York and Europe to experience the artwork and architecture they study in class.
On May 9, 13 students joined MacTaggert, kinesiology assistant professor Laura Russ and art professor Brian Rust on a 10-day trip to Greece.
Through the Study Abroad program, students earned credit in art, humanities and wellness.
“We’re just one department that does this in the university,” MacTaggert said. “There’s usually a dozen or so trips to places like Ireland, Australia, Africa, Peru. One of our faculty members is doing a trip for the college of communications to Chile around New Year’s.”
But the Study Abroad program in the art department had all but died when MacTaggert moved to GRU from Lander University in 2009.
At Lander, where he taught for 36 years and eventually served as the dean of the College of Art and Humanities, MacTaggert led 44 trips to New York and Europe.
The recent Greece trip was his 50th career Study Abroad outing.
The purpose of the trips is to give students the opportunity to experience first hand the art, places and culture they read about in textbooks.
In Athens, students stood in the Acropolis and took in the Parthenon, which was exploded in the 1600s when the Venetians attacked the Turks who had taken up residence there, and learned about efforts to restore the ruin. In Santorini, they walked among pristine, white-plastered walls and sampled wine from a local vineyard.
Russ taught students about the healthful Mediterranean diet. For experiencing it for themselves, and for the amount of walking and climbing required for many of the tours, students were able to earn wellness credit.
Rust also accompanied MacTaggert and offered his students credit in a sculpture class.
But the real value of Study Abroad trips lies in much more than a few college credits, Mac-Taggert said.
Students gain an appreciation for the world around them, and that may make them more marketable after graduation.
“I think that’s pretty darned impressive on a résumé or a graduate application,” he said. “To show that you’ve been to Greece, you’ve been to Prague, you’ve been to New York. You know your way around the real world. It may make a real difference between somebody getting into a program or getting a job or not.”
All but two students who went on the recent trip to Greece are earning degrees at GRU, MacTaggert said. One is a student at Pepperdine University and will transfer the art credit to his degree there, and another is a community member who registered at GRU for one credit hour in order to take the trip.
“You don’t have to be a regular student to go but you do have to be doing it for some kind of credit,” he said.
Because of group and student discounts and by keeping them short, the foreign trips offer structured yet fun learning opportunities that are much less expensive than if a person planned a similar individual trip, MacTaggert said.
At Lander, he often took doctors, dentists, judges and lawyers who wanted to visit evocative places but didn’t have time to organize the trip.
His hope is to instill in his students a love of learning through exploring new places.
“It makes me proud (when) you get a business major (who) goes on a trip like this, and instead of going off and doing business and getting drunk or something in their hotel and doing something stupid, they’ll actually go and want to see the cathedral, and they’ll want to see the art museum, or they’ll want to go see a show or something,” he said.
“They’ll be more sophisticated. They’ll get more out of it. They’ll take great pleasure in our world and civilizations.
“We don’t want them to just learn a bunch of stuff and then go off and be an accountant and watch TV every night, and fritter away their lives on menial things when they could have adventures,” he said.