Some say Winter Session offers flexibility, new opportunities // The Observer

The Winter Session, initiated by the University as a result of the extended winter break, offered students wide-ranging opportunities including online courses, research experiences, career development and community engagement opportunities.

According to a press release from the Winter Session Team, provost Marie Lynn Miranda sought to balance the 10-week break between time for students relax with their families or work jobs and opportunities for intellectual enrichment. Despite a trying fall semester, 7,000 students completed a survey in early October, affirming their interest in Winter Session programs, the Winter Session Team said.

“This extended break offered an opportunity to discover something new, take an intellectual risk or make continuous progress towards [students’] degree requirements,” Regan Jacobs, a member of the Winter Session leadership’s team said.

According to the Winter Session Team’s report, a total of 3,675 students participated in an online course, professional development program or research experience over the break.

Online courses began in the month of January and lasted four weeks. Some students fulfilled core requirements while others stimulated their minds with topics they wanted to learn about.

The Winter Session Team’s report stated that the team was surprised by the strong demand for the online courses, but the campus community developed additional courses and added seats in existing courses to meet the demand.

Whether students studied learning strategies, French culture or the relationship between economics, energy and the environment, some professors agreed that the Winter Session format allowed for additional flexibility and promoted high levels of participation.

Monica Kowalski, assistant teaching professor and associate director of program evaluation and research at the Institute for Educational Initiatives, said in an email she is a remote faculty member who doesn’t normally have the opportunity to teach undergraduates. Over Winter Session, she taught a one credit course, “Developing Resilience as a Learner,” that taught personal resilience, gratitude and research-based learning strategies to students from a variety of levels and majors.

“Students expressed that they really liked having something structured to keep them busy and keep their minds sharp over the break,” Kowalski said, adding, “Students especially enjoyed the breakout discussions, and I was impressed with the depth of their conversations.”

Other professors, including Alison Rice who capitalized on the Winter Session to develop and teach a new course, “Beyond Berets and Baguettes: Introduction to French Culture from Couture to Cuisine,” testified to strong student participation over Winter Session.

Rice said in an email that students asked insightful questions and responded well to the various films and other portrayals of French culture studied, despite the fact that the vast majority of students were not French majors. In fact, Rice said that only one student in her course was actually pursuing a degree in French.

“[The students] were from vastly different disciplines, with majors in accounting, biochemistry, chemical engineering, chemistry, finance and math, among others,” Rice said. “The varying perspectives they brought to class discussion contributed to a vibrant environment.”

Grace Kane, a freshman, took advantage of the opportunity to take a course over Winter Session that she would not normally consider — “Intro to Health Professions.”

“I learned about professions that I never considered going into and found out I really enjoyed them,” Kane said in an email. “The class opened so many doors for me.”

Jennifer Schaefer, assistant professor in the department of biomolecular engineering, decided to repeat a class she taught last spring when classes went fully online. Schaefer echoed professors’ and students’ observations about overall engagement.

Schaefer said that despite a condensed course timeline “Energy, Economics and Environment” worked well in the Winter Session format due to its participation-centered format.

In addition, Schaefer discussed how she felt comfortable covering a breadth of content because the course was a technical elective rather than a core course with specific requirements. All students, regardless of their individual skill level and experience, could gain something from the course.

“My goal is for every student to come away knowing much more about the topic, but every student doesn’t have to attain the same level of understanding,” Schaefer said.

That added flexibility also opened the class, normally restricted to juniors or seniors studying biomolecular engineering, to all students in the college of science or the college of engineering.

While some students pursued this coursework over Winter Session, others conducted research both virtually and in-person in December and January.

David Haungs, a sophomore researching the inorganic chemistry of a novel iridium complex he synthesized last semester, chose to participate in this research over Winter Session to avoid schedule conflicts and devote more time to the project.

“During the semester, my for-credit research consists of four hours per week in the lab,” Haungs said in an email. “Over the Winter Session, however, I was able to be in the lab full time, day in and day out.”

This extra time in the lab payed off in the form of progress in understanding the isomerization mechanism of the complex as well as the reactivity of the compound, Haungs said. He also expressed his gratitude for the leadership and guidance of Seth Brown, chemistry and biochemistry professor, and support from the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement.

In partnership with the Center for Social Concerns, Winter Session also offered many remote service opportunities, from Zoom tutoring at The Robinson Community Learning Center in South Bend to volunteering at MIMS Institute Fellows, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes academic excellence in underserved communities. The Winter Session Team said that 144 students participated in virtual community engagement projects, adding up to over 2,000 volunteer hours.

According to a report created by Jason Mims, Notre Dame alumnus and MIMS Institute founder and president, two freshman helped create a social media business profile as part of a larger effort to encourage the College Board to offer an AP Systematic Racism course for college credit.

“By sharing their gifts of kindness (time, talent, thoughts, training and treasure), the two Irish freshman helped a senior citizen in a low-income zip code gain knowledge and skills in order to successfully navigate social media platforms at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st Century,” Mims said in the report.

One of the freshmen, Felicity Wong, proved instrumental in keeping the Allies for AP Systematic Racism project humming despite ad posting rejections received from social media platforms.

“Felicity offered her valued wisdom to help shape the content and esthetics of posts,” Mims said in the report, “Her support reflected patience and diplomacy — and an acute understanding of an alumnus’ humble efforts to be a ‘Force for Good.’”

As soon as the plans for Winter Session were announced, the Meruelo Center for Career Development (CCD) mobilized to offer more than 120 workshops, events, educational sessions and personal consultations in two separate two-week programming blocks. The CCD also partnered with the Notre Dame Alumni Association to create over 400 micro-internship and short-term projects over Winter Session. More than 1,000 students attended those online sessions, according to a CCD press release.

Additionally, the CCD created 33 projects for students to research and provide feedback on improvements in the CCD’s services. Students working these projects gained valuable experience podcasting, networking, researching and presenting their various proposals and findings, the press release said.

“These projects not only give students an opportunity to work on a ‘real world’ project, but also be directly involved in refining how we serve them and their classmates,” Ryan Willerton, associate vice president for career and professional development said.

Colleen O’Leary, a senior who undertook a Winter Session project to evaluate the CCD’s website, offered a summary of her experience in the press release.

“I learned to work both independently and with a group,” O’Leary said. “It forced me to work ahead to be able to collaborate the best with my group. I’m also proud to have presented our work.”

Tags: Center for Career Development, Center for Social Concerns, online courses, winter session