Boise State professor shakes things up with Shakespeare classes on campus

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Hansen explains the importance of ‘shaking’ things up in the classroom. Photo courtesy of Boise State.

Boise State Professor Matthew Hansen has brought a new perspective to service-learning for students in the English Department. Hansen graduated with his Ph.D in English literature with special concentration in Shakespeare from the University of Nebraska, and moved to Boise for the job that he currently holds at the University in 2005.

It wasn’t until 2006, however, that Hansen created the idea for his self-pioneered service-learning program, Shake It Up After School.

The program, primarily led by Boise State students in Hansen’s Special Topics on Shakespeare course, focuses on bringing elementary school students an understanding of Shakespeare before learning it in later schooling. Students are taught the basis of a well-known play and are then given roles and scripts to be polished and performed for their families and friends at the end of the program.

Hansen makes it a point to serve lower-income schools–those with decreased access to higher literature such as Shakespeare–to create a “deeper understanding,” according to Hansen, of the material for those students.

The program has three partnered schools: Whittier Elementary, Lowell Elementary and Taft Elementary. Two out of the three schools have a Title I designation. In Idaho, this expresses that at least 50 percent of the school’s population gets free or reduced lunch based on household income.

Whittier Elementary is even higher at an 80 percent designation– a percent so high, in fact, that all students are provided with free or reduced lunch. Hansen determined that these schools are where the students can use the program the most, and has been successful in providing elementary schools with the experience.

While Shake It Up is one of Hansen’s most prominent successes at the University, he is a professor and academic advisor first. Hansen is the Director of Literature and Humanities, meaning he not only pioneers programs in the department, but also advises students with majors in the department through their four years in school.

One of these is students is senior Denise Holbrook, an English literature major. In addition to having Hansen as her undergraduate advisor, last semester, Holbrook took Hansen’s Advanced Topics course on Shakespeare.

“I think one of the greatest assets in the classroom that facilitates learning is having an instructor that is enthusiastic and passionate about the subject matter, and Professor Hansen embodies these characteristics when it comes to anything and everything Shakespeare,” Holbrook said, “In my classroom experience, his personal interest and excitement for Shakespearean subject matter really gives his courses a boost of energy. Professor Hansen’s expertise in the field of Shakespeare is so resounding that as a student, I couldn’t help but also be excited about learning.”

Hansen may not be the most well-known professor on campus, but students believe he has made a genuine impact in their academic experiences.

Whether it be the elementary students that he gives a new understanding of Shakespearean plays or the Boise State students that he teaches, Hansen is recognized as an “asset” to the English Department–a title that he doesn’t seem to have any plans to walk away from.

“I feel that Professor Hansen has shown true interest in and facilitated my success at Boise State. As a transfer student, he helped me better understand the different paths I could take to achieve my goals at Boise State. I have met with him many times over the past semesters, and he always comes to advisory meetings prepared with solutions and answers to my questions,” Holbrook said.

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