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QCC Students to Become Jedi Masters in all Things Star Wars

November 2019
  • High school students from South High Community School and Burncoat High School.
    High school students from South High Community School and Burncoat High School recently visited QCC's QuEST Center to work on a Star Wars Lego project.
  • Worcester public high school student Samantha Nordstrom shows off her Star Wars creation.
    Worcester public high school student Samantha Nordstrom shows off her Star Wars creation.
  • It was thumbs up for Worcester high school student Joseph Rajotte.
    It was thumbs up for Worcester high school student Joseph Rajotte during the Star Wars Lego building session.

A short time ago in a college not so far away, Quinsigamond Community College Associate Professor of English, Michael Gormley, began teaching a cultural course on the history of the 42-year Star Wars movie franchise phenomena. In another realm, Betty Lauer, QCC’s dean of the School of Business, Engineering, and Technology was using the Star Wars movie franchise to excite students from South High Community School and Burncoat High School in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). These movies give students a way to see standard academics come to life.

Star Wars has transformed into a cultural phenomenon that has become firmly embedded in our society. Calling devices, such as the popular “droid,” is one example of the integration of Stars Wars into society. The droid is a registered trademark by Lucas Film (the film company founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas), which was licensed to Verizon Wireless for the company’s smartphones. Additionally, the films’ droids (robots that act like servants, pilots, technicians and soldiers in the Star Wars films) are being seen in our real technology-driven world. Many scientists and engineers have been inspired by the films. Today we have similar droid-like robots such as automated military drones, Google's driverless cars to robotic surgical assistants. Iconic Star Wars phrases such as “May the Force be with you,” have also become commonplace in our society.

The course Mr. Gormley is teaching delivers students a unique way in which they can learn and understand abstract concepts that can sometimes be difficult to grasp. Through writing and discussions, students analyze the dominant and persistent elements of Star Wars, as well as themes of morality, religion, gender, and race. The response from students to QCC’s course has been exceptional. In fact, the three-credit, humanities/liberal arts elective has become so popular that the college added additional seats to try and accommodate as many students as possible. Mr. Gormley plans to teach this course again in Fall 2020.

“Everyone seems to love that the course represents the ability to draw pop-culture into academia. I developed ‘Star Wars as Narrative and Culture’ because it’s the dream. As a kid (and often enough as an adult), I wrapped myself and my worldview in stories, usually Star Wars. In many ways, I’m still that kid who wouldn’t shut up about Star Wars,” Mr. Gormley said, adding, “Those students who do love Star Wars though, when they heard about the course, always reacted excitedly, often with double-takes or jaw-drop happiness.”

The course focuses on Star Wars as a cultural epoch spanning from 1977 to 2019 and curates a nuanced and timely look at the currents that surround and bind the Skywalker Saga with the larger franchise.

“We examine how Star Wars interacts with culture and exists as a culture unto itself. We are also reading most of Chris Taylor’s ‘How Star Wars Conquered the Universe,’ for historical and cultural context, and Ian Doescher’s ‘William Shakespeare’s Star Wars’ to examine how Star Wars interacts with culture,” Mr. Gormley continued.

The class ending will almost coincide with the December 20 release of the last Star Wars movie: Episode IX, “The Rise of Skywalker.”  The goal of the course beyond learning about the Star Wars franchise and culture, is to give students the opportunity to incorporate what they are passionate about with academics.

“This course can never happen again, in this way. We are preparing for the end of a cinematic and cultural epoch,” Mr. Gormley said. “A course like this empowers students’ visions of themselves by teaching how to turn the things they love into academic and career success.”

For the high school students who came to QCC, attending a Star Wars Lego building session at the college’s QuEST Center enabled them to look at the Star Wars phenomenon from a technology perspective.

“Star Wars is such a craze with high school students too; both female and male. This session taught students how to sharpen their spatial skills, while having fun,” Ms. Lauer said. “Many of these students are interested in STEM and this activity shows them that learning can be fun too.”

While the last Star Wars movie may be in sight, its “force” will live on in the students at QCC.