Escape rooms, scavenger hunts, and weekly combustion

August 8, 2022


University of Richmond’s faculty are known for going above and beyond to engage students. But some of them are taking their teaching to an entirely different level.

Students in physics professor Matt Trawick’s electronics course, for example, take pride in setting at least one thing on fire every week.

“We learn about diodes. We learn about transistors. That gives us an opportunity to light a new piece of equipment on fire every week,” Trawick said. “Really, that's because the way that they're learning is entirely by making little circuits themselves.”

The course, which promotes hands-on learning, culminates in a final project where the students are encouraged to make their own electronic device. In the past, students have made a theremin, an electronic musical instrument known for its eerie tone, a laser trip-wire alarm, and their own version of a clapper, which turns a light on and off with two claps of the hands.

“All of that requires an active use of knowledge, applying what we know, and having a little inventiveness,” Trawick said.

That sort of innovation can be seen across the University. Leadership studies professor Lauren Henley transformed her classroom into an escape room of her own design to test ensemble leadership theory in action as part of her Leadership and the Humanities course.

“The point is to have students experience an organic shift of leadership positions in real time as escape rooms require collaboration, playing to various strengths, and communication,” Henley said. “My classes are activity-based and force students to engage with difficult materials in critical ways.”  

Henley also incorporates group games and icebreakers early on. “The activities force students to engage with difficult materials in critical ways, so they get comfortable with one another pretty quickly, and we’re able to build community relatively fast.”


I want my students to be able to think about how to solve problems, to think about how to be creative
headshot of Matt Trawick
Matt Trawick

Associate Professor of Physics


English professor Elizabeth Outka’s course, Art (and Nature) Amidst Adversity, employs what she calls a “stealth poetry initiative” in the Eco-Corridor. Students find creative ways to bring poems into the corridor and leave them for others to find. The class encourages engagement with spaces throughout campus. “The course questions why we make art and why we need art and nature to survive,” she said.

The students go on field walks and write about the intersections of literature, nature, and adversity. They “plant” poems and pollinators as ways to enrich the conservation corridor and connect with others.  

In the Robins School of Business, accounting professor Joe Hoyle is well known for encouraging his students to explore the campus and the broader Richmond community. He created an extra credit scavenger hunt throughout the city for students to complete during their semester with him. One of the items they need to find is a headstone emblazoned with the name “Hoyle” in Hollywood Cemetery.  

“For many years, I have encouraged students to get out and get to know Richmond,” Hoyle said. “I say every year, there will come a time in a few years when they look back on college and wonder, ‘Why didn’t I do more things? How could I have missed so many opportunities to broaden my world?’ Now’s the time to do what it takes to avoid that feeling.”

Trawick says these various methods are an important part of what makes the University of Richmond unique.

“I want my students to be able to think about how to solve problems, to think about how to be creative,” he said. “That's what this is really all about.”