Kevin Bolinger

Kevin Bolinger

You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. There’s a signpost up ahead – your next stop, Kevin Bolinger’s class.

Bolinger’s classes within the Honors College are truly unlike any other, and sometimes they do feel like a voyage into Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.  His three Honors seminars are some of the most popular courses on campus, filling in minutes as students register for classes, and Bolinger himself finds the Honors courses are his favorite classes to teach. He’s designed the classes to appeal to students: from exploring human nature in The Twilight Zone to studying the literary elements of the television show Lost and venturing through the streets of London, the courses never cease to pique student interest.

 “Honors students, by and large, are more curious, which is an essential for my teaching style,” he explained. 

Bolinger’s teaching style is part of what sets his classes apart. Last year, I took all three of his Honors courses: Philosophy in The Twilight Zone, Intro to the Great Works: Lost, and The Island that Ruled the World. Though the courses cover vastly different topics, Bolinger creates lessons in each to engage and connect with students. “There’s never been any particular class session that’s been duplicated, even within the same semester between sections, because it is so student-driven,” he said. “If I can spark their curiosity and engage them into co-creating the content of the lesson, that really engages me more.”

Kevin Bolinger

Although the students guide the day-to-day discussions, the course material is uniquely Bolinger’s. He proposed a crazy idea- a course that used a television show as a textbook- to Honors College Dean Greg Bierly nearly ten years ago. “I had always been a big fan of The Twilight Zone series and always felt that it was more than science fiction,” he explained. “It really had a phenomenal impact on me growing up. I’ve always been impressed with Rod Serling’s ability to lay bare the human condition in a way that’s not immediately apparent.”

Learning through The Twilight Zone taught me to engage my brain in ways I never had before. Dr. Bolinger used the show, as well as additional readings, to demonstrate abstract concepts, such as pain or beauty, before he split the class into discussion groups where he challenged our initial notions. We learned to justify our ideas without blindly believing in them. Boligner also connected us with guest speakers, including the late Eva Kor. After we read her book, Surviving the Angel of Death, the Holocaust survivor and Indiana State alumna shared her story with us, instilling in the class the importance of forgiveness.

Bolinger’s brother, a philosopher, was instrumental in shaping the Twilight Zone course, and he provided inspiration for Bolinger’s next course: Intro to the Great Works: Lost. “When we were watching Lost, my brother and I would have such in-depth discussions. After each episode, we’d get together and just bandy back and forth,” Bolinger reminisced. “It got me thinking: wouldn’t be great if I could share that in a class environment?”

Kevin Bolinger

Throughout the course, we thoroughly dissected the show, examining character archetypes and what motivates people to act as they do. Though Lost is fiction, Dr. Bolinger used its themes to demonstrate great storytelling, customs of different cultures and religions, and how our lives are intrinsically linked to those of others. Lost incorporates hidden “Easter eggs”, so the true meaning of the show is not evident until the end. The finale is one of the most exciting parts of the course; Dr. Bolinger encourages students to dress like their favorite character as he ties the storyline together. “It’s kind of ‘Ah- ha!’ moment, like you’re building a jigsaw puzzle the entire semester,” he said eagerly. “Only when you put that final piece in can you see the picture you’re looking at.”

Lost begins with a plane crash during an international flight, so it was a little eerie to immediately transition into Bolinger’s third Honors class, The Island that Ruled the World, which included a trip to London. Fortunately, our trip was much smoother than Oceanic Flight 815, and the Honors College opened our doors to the rest of the world. Armed with a coffee at all times, Dr. Bolinger led us to some of London’s most historic and most famous sites.  Personally, I loved any activity that brought moments from history or literature alive- crossing the iconic Tower Bridge, attending a play at Shakespeare’s Globe theater, or touring the sites that inspired Harry Potter.

Bolinger shared some of his favorite moments from the study abroad. “I love the Agatha Christie play [Mousetrap]. The historical context of watching a play that’s been in continuous production since 1955 in an old-timey theater -it’s almost like you’re transported back to 1955.” He plans to whisk another group of Anglophile Honors students “across the pond” in May 2021 and hopes to keep the travel expenses affordable for all.

All three of Bolinger’s classes were unlike anything I had ever experienced prior or that I am likely to experience again.  The courses were some of the most active learning opportunities I’ve known while also providing some of the most enjoyable memories of my collegiate career. My roommate took Bolinger’s Honors courses alongside me, and we have found that his classes truly stick with us. Sometimes, without meaning to, we find ourselves relating our everyday lives back to something he taught us. The course concepts came alive to us in a way no other material had, changing the way we saw the world.

“Participate in your own learning,” he advises, and we have truly taken it to heart. “Remember, you are part of the equation. You’re not a receptacle receiving information. It’s what you do with that information, how you process it, make it your own, or discard it.” 

Similar mindsets from his own instructors inspired Bolinger to become a professor. “I don’t think I had the confidence to believe that I could be that. I didn’t dare dream it,” he said. “My professors engaged, gave me that back-and-forth, and thought maybe I had something to say that was just as good as what they had to say.”

He enjoys guiding his courses as much as we enjoy engaging in them. “All my life, my brother and I have engaged constantly with ideas. To have a job where I can do that and have those fascinating discussions and engagements every day… I couldn’t think of anything better.”

In Dr. Bolinger’s Honors classes, the only boundaries are truly “those of imagination,” inspiring his students to take their learning into a completely different dimension, and we are truly better individuals because of it. 

Kimmie Collins is a student in Professor Bolinger’s Honors classes and a student writer in University Marketing.