Sophomore Aristotle Bougas holds items from the care package shipped to his home.
Chris Koehler assembles care packages at his home.
In mid-April, as instructor Chris Koehler was preparing to remotely teach his “Pathway to Space” class about the role imagination plays in our concept of space, he had an imaginative idea of his own.
Despite the remote course format required by the coronavirus pandemic, he once again invited CU Professor William Kuskin, an expert on the history of books, to speak via Zoom on comic books and graphic novels and the role of imagination.
And instead of distributing comic books to students at the end of class as he normally would, he mailed them to his students’ homes.
“Venturing into the unknown, whether it’s space or whatever career path you’re on, requires you to imagine your own possibilities and create your own realities,” Koehler said. “So comic books bring that to life in many ways.”
Koehler, the founder and managing director of CU Boulder’s space minor, raided the bargain bin at Time Warp Comics in Boulder to create care packages with assorted comics, stickers, a personal note and other goodies for more than 100 students. Concerned about virus spread, Koehler carefully assembled the packages wearing a mask, gloves and self-adhesive envelopes–mailing them in time to arrive to students just before the April 16 class session.
“I knew that I wanted to try to send students something once I knew we were going to be remote,” Koehler said. “It was personal, and the comments I got back from students were, ‘It made me feel like I was still part of CU’s community, more than just via Zoom.’ It was something personal that they could feel that connection.”
Aristotle Bougas, a sophomore majoring in environmental studies, sent a selfie to Koehler after receiving the package at his family home in Durango. He said the course remained a “biweekly escape from reality” even after they transitioned to remote learning, and the package was a part of that.
“My siblings gasped that any professor could care about his students the way the Pathway to Space family cares about each,” Bougas said.
The comic book care packages were just the latest signal that the Pathway to Space class is not your typical course. Offered to students from any major, the course aims to introduce students to the history, the science and the mystique of the space industry.
To achieve that goal, Koehler routinely dresses in costume, asks students to perform skits and treats his classroom like the set of a game show. The course features a “flipped classroom,” where students watch recorded lectures on their own time and use class time for group work and interactive lessons, like talking with guest speakers.
For Bougas, the comic books are a cherished gift, made all the more sentimental by the difficulties the students overcame this year.
“Making a class as good as Pathway to Space requires a teacher just as nice,” Bougas said. “Many of us were silly as kids, but less can hold that energy and charm like Chris. The feeling of sitting in that class happy to have an hour of fun and inspiring lecture on how we adventure off our planet and into the cosmos is like no other.
“Test scores seem tiny when talking about the universe and the collections of star dust in it. He understood that.”