The Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service (Shaw Center) administers the Robert B. Menschel Public Service Award. This award was established to honor Robert Menschel and to perpetuate his commitment to the not-for-profit world by supporting undergraduate…
Hendricks Chapel Serves as a Classroom Space to Fulfill Sacred Mission
Hendricks Chapel is known to be the spiritual heart of campus for students to gather and reflect. As a student-focused space for diverse religious, spiritual, intellectual and cultural groups, the chapel is one of the largest gathering places on Syracuse University’s campus, with the capacity to host 1,000 people. Now, in response to COVID-19, Hendricks Chapel also serves as an in-person and virtual academic classroom.
This spring semester, Rev. Brian Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel, teaches Global Christians and Daily Life, the first non-musical academic class held in the space in many years. Phil Arnold, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Religion, also teaches his class, Religion and Sports, in the main chapel.
“I believe that classrooms are sacred spaces because teaching and learning are sacred acts,” says Konkol. “I am thankful for the dedicated team that transformed such a historical space into a modern classroom, for it has allowed us to welcome more students into the spiritual heart of campus.”
The planning to expand the chapel’s impact as a classroom was introduced during the Fall 2020 semester. To support the increased need for in-person academic classrooms due to COVID-19, the chapel’s space allowed students and staff to learn and teach fully in-person. Additionally, the main chapel is spacious enough to accommodate a larger class size while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Students of Konkol and Arnold share the honor of this opportunity. As many classes during the past year have transitioned to being virtual, many say the safe space that the chapel offers makes class there a tremendously provoking experience.
“Dean Konkol’s Global Christians and Daily Life has been by the far the most unique experience I have had at Syracuse,” says Sam Hershamn ’21. “An hour and half of time to engage in dialogue of what gives our life purpose and meaning.”
Fredaye Wilkes ’22 says that Konkol establishes his class as a welcoming space where students feel comfortable sharing stories. “The setting of the chapel with its grand and holy presence allows myself, and I think others, to enter a space of peace and quiet away from our everyday busy lives.”
The technology in the chapel was adapted to help both in-person and virtual students share their stories and communicate with one another. A teaching station was established in the main chapel in partnership with the University’s Learning Environments and Media Productions department, a provider of academic technology services on campus. The teaching station is a portable system with two cameras, which capture multiple angles of the space and instructor; additionally, this one of its kind design features a high quality sound system, enhancing the experience for virtual participants, and creating a platform for interactive dialogue for those present.
“The teaching station was built to reflect what a professor would find in a classroom, but is versatile enough to be set up and broken down quickly to accommodate the various programs and services that the chapel hosts,” explains Alex Snow, assistant director of events at Hendricks Chapel.
The teaching station is used to share videos, control the chapel sound system and support students learning virtually. Konkol’s class includes 60 students, and while instruction is primarily in-person, students in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure are still able to participate on Zoom. The updated technology in a historic space allows all students to interact together through conversations, polls and visual aids.
Arnold’s Religion and Sports class is delivered as a hybrid class to 250 students. Approximately 30 students participate in the class in-person and the remaining students watch video recordings asynchronously.
Arnold noted the elaborate architecture in Hendricks Chapel, which he says makes teaching more impactful. “The chapel is not like a regular classroom in some sense. We refer to it as a sacred space that we try to be respectful of,” he says. “Also, the more people that can visit Hendricks Chapel, the better. I hope to teach there in future years.”
Students agree that Hendricks Chapel not only serves as an academic space for them now, but it’s also reflective of the sacredness behind its immense history.
“During my college career, there have only been a handful of classes that I truly look forward to going to every single day and this is one of them,” says Patrick Penfield ’21. “Learning in a space with so much history is a privilege and a lesson on its own.”
Story written by Christina Kohl ’21