A good general education teaches students to examine a subject from a variety of perspectives so that they become well-rounded people who have the creativity to think well in any situation or discipline. At Torrey, you’ll complete most of Biola’s general education requirements by reading texts that have shaped our world, starting in ancient Greece and ending in the present. You’ll discover the greatness of Plato, Dante, Calvin, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and C.S. Lewis by reading their books directly, not by buying textbooks about them. And the Bible surrounds and pervades the entire reading list. We read great books to learn how to read the greatest book of all.
We don’t hide it: our program is tough. We want to prepare our students to live well and succeed wherever they go after graduation, which means we ask a lot of you. Students read 10 to 15 books per semester, or roughly one book per week. Reading The Odyssey in seven days isn’t easy. But it will be only half your workload at Biola for the week, as Torrey makes up half your classes, so you’ll have the time to read deeply and well. We also require students to take notes on every text and class session, to help them engage the texts they are wrestling with more closely and to ensure that when they come to class they are well equipped to seek understanding.
The best way to learn to think well and deeply is by wrestling with big ideas and hard questions in challenging conversations that are also safe and supportive. So you won’t have lecture classes. Instead, our faculty ask an opening question and students then spend the next three hours working through it. Our faculty guide the discussion, but our students do the hard work of learning for themselves. The discussion environment challenges students to articulate what they believe, and then to think creatively on the spot as they interact with peers and the faculty with their ideas. Students form friendships through this process, and are equipped to engage the world around them with confidence, grace, and courage.
When you come to Torrey, you’ll be introduced to a faculty member who will provide accountability and guidance during your time with us (and sometimes long after, too). Students meet with their mentors regularly during the semester and often talk about their whole life: the texts they’re struggling with, their writing, how to find a good church, or their plans for summer employment. Our faculty are committed to seeing our students grow in the image of Christ, and are willing to provide as much counsel to that end as they can.
The conversations you’ll have your senior year at Torrey build on and deepen the conversations you have your freshman year. Which is why you’ll have all your classes in Torrey with the same small group of students that you start the program with. As you get to know each other better, you’ll learn how to challenge and support each other’s learning more effectively. And the more conversations you have with each other, the deeper and more enriching your conversations will become.
At Torrey, your faculty mentor is the one who evaluates your progress. Because our faculty know our students well, they are able to provide individual, unique challenges and guidance. They will also help you integrate your pursuit of academic excellence into your every-day life. At the end of every term, each student sits for an oral exam—or what we call “Don Rags.” Students have a thirty-minute conversation with their mentor about the texts they read and the ideas they developed that semester. Through this conversation, the faculty member evaluates how well the student has engaged the curriculum and provides feedback so that you can make the most of your time with us.
Students don’t spend their semester with just one faculty member. Our faculty rotate through the classes, which means students may not know who is teaching a class until they walk in. Each professor has their own specialty, which informs whatever text they are teaching. But each student brings their own perspective into the classroom as well; they come from different backgrounds and they each have their own interests and concerns. Students must come alongside each other and the faculty not only to deepen their understanding of the truth, but to learn to support and encourage one another in the midst of the pursuit.
We want students to learn how to communicate by both speaking and writing. Every term, you will write a persuasive, analytical research paper that draws on that semester’s texts. Your mentor will approve your thesis, you’ll write and revise it (and revise, and revise!), and you’ll work with your mentor to ensure it’s the best possible paper you can do. And you’ll have plenty of help if you want it. Torrey papers bring together the entire community. Upperclassmen are always willing to provide feedback for students who want it. The Torrey writing curriculum culminates in your senior year, when you’ll spend an entire semester researching, writing, and editing a senior thesis that showcases your ability to understand texts and ideas and make arguments. It’s also a great opportunity to prepare a sample for graduate school applications and other professional opportunities.
It may be that when you reach your junior year, there are other educational opportunities that are more important for your growth than writing a paper. Perhaps you want to make a short film from a Shakespeare play. Or you want to create a curriculum that integrates readings and Scripture for a Sunday school class you’re teaching. Or maybe you want to sculpt a series of characters rooted in Russian literature. If your mentor is on board with the project, the sky really is the limit. The Torrey Honors Institute is a place where students own their own educational efforts, and the better use you make of your opportunities the more flexibility you will have.