By RACHEL JAMES
During the winter break, Drake University offers a January Term that allows students to immerse themselves in a small-group learning experience without the hindrance of balancing additional classes. With classes ranging from theatre history in London to the Americanization of Mexico, J-Term offers a multitude of options that can occur on campus, in the U.S. or perhaps in a completely different country.
The J-Term Fair was hosted on March 12 with more than 100 students dropping by Parents Hall of Olmsted Center. There were booths set up showcasing potential options for J-Terms, and students could talk to those they were interested in. The academic program allows students to complete an Area of Inquiry requirement or to study topics that normally they wouldn’t be able to fit into their schedule. About 40 to 45 percent of eligible students attend a J-term, with first-years not able to participate.
Arthur Sanders is associate provost for curriculum therefore oversees J-Term. J-Term is usually around three weeks long with some minor changes based on calendar events. Sanders said that the number of J-Term courses varies from year to year.
“In 2018 there were 67 classes, 17 of which were travel seminars,” Sanders said. “2019 was about the same, but we have not put together the final figures yet. Each school and college set their own J-Term schedule just as they do any semester.”
The planning of J-Term is not as difficult as some may think due to the length of time the program has existed for.
“At this point, there is not a lot that needs to be done,” Sanders said. “Schools and Colleges decide what courses they want to give. For travel seminars, if there are more than 15 suggested, the International Programs Office has a faculty committee that decides which ones will be offered, which is based on factors such as geographic distribution and how often the class has been offered.”
When it comes to planning the J-Term Fair and dealing with any issues regarding J-Term, there is a committee that handles them.
“The Oversight Committee also has to plan the surveys we do every year of students and faculty who participate in J-Term, and they plan the J-Term Fair,” Sanders said. “The Oversight Committee also deals with any issues that arise, those these days, those are few and far between.”
Emma Stockman, first-year and environmental science major said she is interested in attending a J-Term and hopes to go on one that overlaps with her major.
“I’m looking into the one that goes to Rwanda,” Stockman said. “It would look at post genocide reconciliation and environmental awareness.”
While some students may be trepidatious of leaving the country when they could be at home instead, Stockman said that she finds traveling exciting.
“I’ve been out of the country before,” Stockman said. “I’ve been on trips that are extended periods of time, but it would be the first for that length of time and that distance. I’ve never been to Rwanda before. It’ll be an adjustment and a unique adventure.”
There are some steps students must consider before signing up for their J-Term of choice, including cost and health precautions. Rachel Wedemeyer, P2, manned a booth at the J-Term fair and was offering vaccine information.
“We’re giving out vaccine and health information about the different countries that J-Terms are going to,” Wedemeyer said. “Basically, you come to us after you’ve kind of picked out a couple of trips and we can give you an overview of what you might have to do if you decide to go on that trip.”
Wedemeyer discussed her own J-Term experience and said she believes that it’s a nice alternative for going home all semester but that while there’s a lot of choices, sometimes cost holds students back.
“Drake does pretty good about offering plenty of different stuff,” Wedemeyer said. “But then cost is always an issue. I hustled during the summer, but I do that every summer. I know there is a few scholarships if you can get them.”
Matt Bruinekool, assistant professor of counseling education has been instructing the Understanding Diverse Populations J-Term for six years and said the experience is unlike that of a regular class.
“The experiential learning component as well as the service learning are really the key components to a J-Term and what differentiates it from what you do during a traditional semester,” Bruinekool said. “The reason for this class is that you get to compare and contrast the Midwest and the Iowa culture and how they view mental illness then how it’s viewed in Hawaii.”
The connections students make during J-Term and the friendships that develop make a meaningful impact Bruinekool said. This includes the bettering of relationships between faculty and students.
“I think the J-Term experience provides an opportunity for students and faculty to learn about each other in a very different way than in a traditional classroom,” Bruinekool said. “Where I’m standing up in front of everybody lecturing and I have PowerPoint and everything else. It’s a more real and genuine experience.”
Photo courtesy of Mirabai Moseley