Sunday, March 15, 2015

Making the Most of January

There is no doubt in my mind that the best thing about winter this year was the 2015 January term at the University of Rhode Island.  Given how miserable this winter has been, one could argue that it presented a pretty low bar for achieving the “best” status.  However, in my view, our January term was so outstanding this year that it would qualify as best even if you spent the winter in Florida.  Here’s why. 
Over 600 students participated in J-term 2015, a 50% increase over last year – and this is only its second year. The term included 29 “in-person” classes on campus, and 17 travel courses.  The top reasons cited by students for taking a J-term course this year: to catch up or get ahead on progress to their degree; interest in a specific course being offered; looking for a opportunity to challenge themselves; and to develop new skills. All of these are great reasons. I am especially pleased by the desire of students to use J-term in order to stay on course to graduate in four years. This was one of our principal motivations for establishing J-term and is one of our top priorities.
It is also noteworthy that so many URI students took advantage of the many opportunities to study and learn away from Kingston.  U.S. travel courses took students to Hawaii, Tampa, Washington DC, around Rhode Island and to Connecticut and New York City. International travel courses included trips to Belize, Bonaire. Chile, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Korea, and the Philippines.  Two of the domestic trips were focused on career exploration and networking and included visits to companies in RI, CT, and New York City.  These trips, in particular, received rave reviews from the students who participated, although students evaluated all the off-campus courses very positively.
Indeed, one of most encouraging and rewarding outcomes of J-term has been the student experience. How do we know? Here are some quotes from students (some comments were edited to preserve confidentiality):
“I liked everything about the course. It was fantastic in every way imaginable. Visiting the different work settings gave me some serious insight as to where I would like to take my career. I was very unhappy when this course came to an end."      
“It was fantastic to focus on just one class and really give it my all.”
“I enjoyed 2015 URI Winter J Term, it was well planned and the communication with the professor and my classmates was amazing. I truly enjoyed my class during J Term.”

It was a priceless experience and essentially important to my education.”

“The 2015 Winter J Term was phenomenal. It did a fine job compressing a full semester course into a few weeks. More importantly, course is a class that should be promoted at lot more. I feel like it can operate as a prerequisite and preparation for URI students seeking internship opportunities in the following Spring semester. The class was beyond informative and offered enough online homework that kept my classmates and I engaged and busy.”

“The condensed workload and tight time frame were ideal. It lends itself to staying on track and becoming more involved in the class.”

“I liked that J Term gave me the opportunity to catch up on credits and also prepare me better for the spring semester.”

“The J Term class I was enrolled in was the most beneficial class I have ever taken at URI. I learned more about how to better prepare myself for after graduation in those 2 weeks more than I have in my 4 years at URI. Everyone should have to take this course. I wouldn't change a thing."

“I really enjoy the J term classes because, while challenging, I believe they offer a concentrated curriculum that is interesting and understandable. I find my experiences thus far taking J-term classes to be rewarding and informative. I will certainly recommend the J term semester to other students wishing to earn some extra credits during the break.”

The most significant part of my trip was finding out that there is so much that I can do with my degree in Communications. Every new place we went and new person we heard from opened my eyes to what possible jobs I could have in my future, and some jobs that I never knew existed.”

There is now no doubt that the University of Rhode Island January Term offers unique and tremendously beneficial opportunities for our students. There is a lot more we can do, however.  Many more students would benefit from J-term classes, so let’s set a goal of doubling enrollment for January 2016.  Given the extremely strong positive response from students, we should create one career/networking course for every college or school. Also, it will be very important to create J-term courses in high-demand areas, especially laboratories in the sciences.  This should be a top priority for the university.