In The News

Celebrating The Odyssey Project Graduates of the First-Year Course in Champaign/Urbana

Debra Hawhee, Ph.D. Teaches Philosophy in the First-year Course

JM [John Marsh, Coordinator and Writing and Critical Thinking Teacher for Champaign/Urbana Course] has been in the news a lot lately! Yesterday’s Odyssey graduation was quite the media event. Check it out.

For my part, I enjoyed seeing our students again and meeting their kids and grandkids and family and friends. And as the person in charge of laying out the food spread, I have this to say: when did fruit rollups become so popular? And also Mt. Dew is as big a hit with the teens now as it was twenty years ago.

In all seriousness, though, in the News Gazette article Dale Bauer indicates that teaching in this project was the most remarkable pedagogical experience she’s had, and I really couldn’t agree more.

Odyssey Project Graduation

Reported by: Charles Vance of WCIA 3 (local tv news); 05/05/2007 07:42pm

One Champaign program aimed at bringing a college education to everyone celebrated a big milestone today.

The Odyssey Project held it’s first graduation ceremony at the Douglass Library.

This is the inaugural year for the project in Champaign-Urbana.

The program provides college courses free of charge to low income students.

Today’s graduates say education is the key to a better life and everyone should have that chance. Graduate, Kim Tate said she knows she has been given a great opportunity as a student in The Odyssey Project.

“I’ve gained so much insight, a new perspective from their thoughts their ideas,” said Tate.

John Marsh is the program coordinator.

He said he wanted to start some sort of community education program in the area but wasn’t sure how until he saw the success of The Odyssey Project in Chicago.

“The philosophy is that we try to remove as many barriers as possible,” said Marsh.

“There’s no tuition, charge for books, child care, we try to get the best professors and do all we can to build that bridge for them.”

First class graduates from program for adults bound for college

By Mike Monson; Sunday, May 6, 2007 11:43 AM CDT

CHAMPAIGN – Shawnika Lucks of Urbana didn’t know quite what to expect when she signed up last year for the Odyssey Project.

The Odyssey Project, in its first year in Champaign-Urbana, is a college-accredited course in the humanities offered at no cost to people in the Champaign-Urbana area living below 150 percent of the poverty level. Students attend class for two hours each evening on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an entire school year and get six hours of college credit.

“I saw fliers about it and I was like, ‘I like literature and I’d like to know more about philosophy,'” said Lucks, 30. “So I signed up for the class. I’m glad I did. It was way more than I thought it would be.”

Lucks was one of 11 graduates of the Odyssey Project’s inaugural class of graduates. The project was sponsored by and paid for by the University of Illinois and the Illinois Humanities Council. A graduation ceremony was held Saturday afternoon at the Douglass Branch Library, 504 E. Grove St., C.

The idea behind the project is to have the course – which teaches philosophy, literature, art history and history – serve as a transition to college for people who have never attended college or who want to return to college, said John Marsh, coordinator of the initiative. The course and books are free, and child care is provided for students with young children, he said.

Among Lucks’ instructors was UI English Professor Dale Bauer, who said the class was “the single best experience I’ve had in 23 years of teaching.”

Bauer said the classroom discussions were energized and represented “a true Socratic dialogue.”

“I owed it to them to come prepared,” she said. “The mutual respect was special here. These students will say anything. There’s no defensiveness here.”

Kimetrice Tate of Urbana, who works for the Unit 4 school district, spoke for the 11 graduates during the ceremony.

“Thank you to everyone,” she said. “I believe I’m a better person as a result of this project. I’m a better person because I’ve learned to be disciplined.”

Tate said she didn’t know what to expect when the class started studying the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.

“As I delved into the prose, there are some philosophical ideas that are relevant even today,” she said. “I think that’s part of the life-changing potential of this project.”

Tate also said the quality of the instructors left her and other classmates “blown away.”

“I think these are some of the best professors the University of Illinois has to offer,” she said.

Faculty included Bauer, who taught literature, and Debra Hawhee, an associate professor of English who taught philosophy. They taught in the fall.

Teaching in the spring were Rebecca Ginsburg, an assistant professor of landscape architecture, who taught art history, and Mark Leff, an associate professor of history, who taught history. Marsh, assistant director for the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, taught writing and critical thinking for both the fall and spring semesters.

The Illinois Humanities Council’s partner in the Odyssey Project is Bard College in New York, which launched the program in the early 1990s. Such courses are now offered in 50 cities across the country, including Chicago and Springfield.

Those interested in applying for the course or who want information can call 244-3344 or visit and click on Odyssey Project under “educational programs and grants.”