English 105 students get ‘School of Rock’ experience

As part of teaching associate professor Marc Cohen’s writing and rhetoric course, they met a rock band and went to a concert.

Two band members speaking to a group of students
Jess Thompson and Jade Long visited Cohen's English 105 course the day before their concert at the Cat's Cradle. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

First-year Carolina student Jada Yard plays tenor saxophone for the Marching Tar Heels. There’s no doubt she’s musically inclined, yet — until recently — Yard had never attended a rock concert.

That changed Feb. 26, when Yard and her English 105 classmates descended upon the legendary Cat’s Cradle music venue in Carrboro. More than a field trip, the concert was also homework.

After meeting and interviewing members of the indie band Hotel Fiction in their Greenlaw classroom the day before, nearly 50 students from teaching associate professor Marc Cohen’s introductory writing and rhetoric course crammed into the sold-out venue’s back room to see the band perform.

“People always say that it’s so much better than just listening in your headphones,” Yard said, smiling. “I could hear every single note, like every single feeling that they were expressing to the crowd, and all the people around me were so into it. The funniest thing to me is Professor Cohen. He knew all the words, all the songs they were singing, and you could tell he was in his element.”

English 105 introduces students to academic writing across the disciplines of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. The broad nature of the course gives professors creative freedom to design their own units. Cohen has long prioritized crafting immersive, experiential projects for his students, dating back to his days as a high school English teacher.

Each semester, Cohen looks for ways to collaborate with other departments across Carolina or with the Chapel Hill community at large. In previous years, Cohen has collaborated with the North Carolina Botanical Garden, the UNC Hospitals Emergency Department and more.

Cohen came up with this semester’s unit through his yearly tradition of browsing the Cat’s Cradle calendar and listening to the upcoming artists on Spotify. When he heard Hotel Fiction’s music, he thought the themes would appeal to his Gen Z students.

“I’m a big believer that if we want anything to be great, we’ve got to love it ourselves,” Cohen said. After seeing the band play last year, he thought they would appeal to his students. It helps that the band members aren’t much older than Cohen’s students. Founding members Jess Thompson and Jade Long met at the University of Georgia and graduated in 2021, and they’ve been touring and making music ever since.

The day before the show, Thompson and Long sat among Cohen’s students and played an icebreaking, music-themed game. In the coming weeks, the students will have opportunities to interview even more people from Hotel Fiction’s circle. Their assignment is to write essays about the band’s past, present and future.

Group photo in a classroom of associate professor Marc Cohen and six students from his English 105 class with the two band members of Hotel Fiction, Jess Thompson and Jade Long.

Students in Marc Cohen’s English 105 course met Hotel Fiction band members Jessica Thompson (fourth from right) and Jade Long (second from right) and attended their local concert. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

“It’s really cool that somebody reached out to have us be a part of the unit for a class,” Thompson said. The fact that Cohen asked that students be able to talk to the band’s families, agent, manager and producer “definitely shows that he understands the holistic nature of being in a band and how many people it takes to make that happen. We’re just really honored.”

As Thompson, Long and the rest of the band posed with Cohen at the end of class for pictures, Long shouted out, “Coolest professor ever!”

Yard called the experience “amazing.”

“Professor Cohen has taken a class that was generally supposed to be open and shut, and he made it something that we will really think about for the rest of our time at Carolina,” Yard said.

Two-photo collage: The band Hotel Fiction performing on stage at a concert venue, the Cat's cradle; group photo of six college students in attendance at the concert.

First-year student Jada Yard (far left) enjoyed how she could “hear every single note” at her first rock concert. (Submitted photo)