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ASU hosts largest Classics Fall Forum yet

Professor speaking to students at the front of a classroom.

Professor Mike Tueller demonstrates to a group of students how to sacrifice a cow. Photo courtesy the School of International Letters and Cultures

December 04, 2023

When you think of the classics, the first things that probably come to mind are long literary works like the "Odyssey" and the "Iliad," or perhaps the ancient Parthenon ruins; however, the field of study is so much more than that.

Studying classics not only helps us to understand the influence the ancient times still has in the modern era, but it can provide many skills important to a variety of careers. According to the career website Indeed, a degree in classics can hone skills in research, problem-solving, verbal and written communication, and critical thinking, and it can lead to such career opportunities as a journalist, museum curator, archivist, writer, translator or lawyer.

To demonstrate this, professors at Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures recently engaged K–12 students at the school's annual Classics Fall Forum, an outreach event for students from the Phoenix area to learn exactly what studying the classics means.

The event gives students a taste of the ASU classics program by providing a handful of different experiences, including presentations, games, contests and other hands-on activities. This year, the fall forum hosted its largest group yet, with around 300 students.

Mike Tueller, professor and director of the School of International Letters and Cultures, wants students to know that the humanities classes they are currently taking really do matter.

“The study of the classics has been influencing the world for a long time. It’s also a really interesting disciplinary way to sort of organize your thinking and figure out why things are the way they are,” Tueller said.

“Usually they're in Latin classes or Latin clubs in their high schools, and we just want to expose them to the larger world of learning about what Greco-Roman civilization is all about."

Tueller feels that there is great value in learning about the classics and hopes that the fall forum is a fun way to both engage and excite students to want to keep learning.

Each year during the fall forum, Tueller leads a demonstration on how to sacrifice a cow in ancient Greek religion, which students always look forward to. The goal of the presentation is to get them into the mindset of what the sacrificial experience was like back then.

“The ritual can help us understand the different views that ancient Greeks had about that,” Tueller said.

Associate Teaching Professor Almira Poudrier, the main organizer of the fall forum, is in charge of finding people to do the different presentations. She also serves on the board of Arizona Humanities, where she has numerous contacts, one being Brenda Thompson, who this year volunteered to do a presentation about the power of words.

“That one was probably the biggest hit of this particular forum,” Poudrier said.

Thompson’s presentation showed students the different ways in which certain languages can be used or misused. She also let the students participate in a fun hands-on activity where they pulled a sticky note that had a specific number of words on it. The students then used that number of words to describe something important to them. They could also trade their words with other students if they had too many or needed more. Once everyone had chosen their word or phrase, each student had the opportunity to explain the reasoning behind what they chose.

The fall fourm also allows students to experience one or two college classes and tour some of ASU’s Tempe campus.

“We invite kids who are already taking Latin, sometimes even ancient Greek, in their high school. There’s more than you think here in the Valley, and we want them to come and sort of see what we do here in classics, specifically,” Pourdrier said.