Winter and summer term success and shortcomings

While for many students the biggest decision faced during the first week of winter break was whether to unpack their books from first semester or catch up on “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, there were a good number of students who were mentally in “study mode” while preparing for a winter course with the College’s winter session program.

Over this year’s winter term, 180 students enrolled in classes that met in January and ran just shy of two-and-a-half weeks.  According to the TCNJ Winter Session website, there were 19 different courses, ranging from Japanese-American Experiences in California to Principles of Macroeconomics, on campus.

Although the winter session was initiated in the 2011-2012 school year and is still pretty new, it has proven to be quite successful.

“Student enrollment has grown,” said William Behre, interim vice provost at the College. “Course evaluations that are completed by both faculty and students suggest that, in general, both groups believe that the courses are worthwhile.”

According to Behre, the registration  almost doubled from last year’s session.

“Some students were transferring in courses that they took elsewhere between semesters,” Behre said.  “We decided to offer some courses here to see if there was interest.”

Taylor Dickinson, senior elementary education and Math/Science/Technology double major, has participated in summer sessions for the past three years.

Dickinson said she benefited from the summer sessions. At the end of the spring semesters at the College, she was still in “school mode,” which made it easier to make a smooth transfer into another semester.

Dickinson took an education course in Philadelphia, which she also enjoyed.

From these experiences, Dickinson learned of different possibilities for career paths using her major.

“Learning about professions that are related to science education but do not necessarily involve being in a classroom, such as educators at a zoo, the Liberty Science Center or in similar settings, opened the door to new ideas that I would have never considered otherwise” Dickinson said.

Junior Brandon Schiff took a summer course to help lighten the demanding schedule of a mechanical engineering major.  While in retrospect he was happy he took Thermodynamics I over the summer so he could concentrate solely on that class, he thought he should have just taken it at a community college instead.

“A summer class at my community college was $350 and it fills the same requirement that I could’ve taken at TCNJ,” Schiff said.

However, Talha Cheema, a senior biology major, thought the courses at the College were more valuable than those at a community college.

“My advisors and professors told me that it looks better for medical schools,” Cheema said.

One course unit for the winter session costs $1591.72 for in-state students, while the summer session costs $1901.68 per unit.

It was not only the cost of the program Schiff did not like, but also who was selected as an instructor.

Schiff said his instructor, Shih Yu Lu, was not faculty at the College.

“With summer session you usually would get someone who doesn’t normally teach. And that makes it annoying cause my professor never taught before and was kinda boring,” Schiff explained. “He said he worked at some engineering company but was asked to teach the class. If I remember right there was a different teacher, then (Lu) replaced him before the classes started.”

Emma Colton, freshman journalism major and Signal Web Editor, on the other hand, participated in a winter session this year and thought her instructor was exactly cut out for the job.

“(Marla Jaksch) was very thorough and took full advantage of technology to supplement the class,” Colton said. Although most of her class was online, she found that her professor taught the material well.

“Our office works with department chairs to determine what courses should be offered and which faculty would be appropriate to teach,” Behre said on selecting instructors.

Another aspect of the summer and winter sessions is the opportunity to study abroad.

Both Cheema and Matt Reynolds, a senior English secondary education major, have taken advantage of study abroad in the summer and winter sessions.

Cheema spent two weeks in the Galapagos studying the natural history, in what he described as “the best two weeks of his life.”

The summer session gave him the opportunity to study abroad without stressing about fitting it into a typical semester.

Reynolds recently returned from the London and Stratford-upon-Avon program, studying British theatre.

“At first, it was really awkward because the 15 of us were split into cliques because we didn’t know each other, ” Reynolds said. “By the end, we were all going out at night together and acting as if we had known each other all throughout college.”

However, the trip was pricey. “This trip was crazy expensive. That being said, I would have paid more than what I did to get this experience,” Reynolds said.

Overall, students seem to have found the extra semesters beneficial. From the College’s point of view, the next step is determining whether or not to make the winter program a permanent option.

Reynolds and his new friends embrace British culture in England. (Photo courtesy of Matt Reynolds)