College students often spend the final weeks of winter break watching movies, playing video games and writing résumés for jobs and internships.
Now, a University of Mary Washington offering called the January-term, or “J-term,” allows them to earn college credits for these and other types of activities.
Before UMW’s spring semester begins – remotely on Jan. 25, with on-campus instruction scheduled to start Feb. 1 – the condensed but intense three-week curriculum gives students the chance to engage with instructors and peers, stockpile academic credits and complete requirements and electives. More than 400 students have enrolled in 29 courses, ranging from Personal Finance and Writing for the Workplace to Games and Culture and The Three Big Q’s: Love, Death and Justice.
The idea for the J-term came last fall when UMW’s administration decided to revise the academic calendar to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. That freed up the first three weeks of January for “some sort of new, creative academic opportunity,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger. Mary Washington has occasionally offered a winter term in the past, but if made permanent, students could study abroad or pursue other experiential learning opportunities in January. They’re already taking note.
Because of the J-term, “my spring semester is now lighter,” said senior Maggie Rush. “I can concentrate on finding an internship or job.”
Signing up for Positive Psychology was a no-brainer, said Rush, who is fulfilling an elective for her psychological science major. The coursework is full-throttle, she added, but activities like journaling and meditation have already impacted her mental wellness in these troubled times.
The uplifting psychology course, as well as Scientific Lit in a Pandemic, History of Western Art II and a volleyball class taught entirely through online modules, is among the most popular offerings. Several are shortened versions of classes typically taught in the fall and spring.
Winter term courses at Assistant Professor Alexandra Dunn’s undergraduate institution were always “outside the box,” she said, so she was inspired to create a creative new course. One of seven classes offered by the College of Business, Management and Film has students analyzing workplaces depicted in movies like Office Space, Hidden Figures and The Devil Wears Prada. The films serve as a springboard for discussions about topics such as leadership, micromanagement, diversity and inclusion, and work-life balance.
“This time for self-reflection allows them to better understand who they are, what jobs they want and what kind of managers they’d like to be,” Dunn said.
Assistant Professors Adria Goldman and Emily Crosby introduced a Professional Communication course for students who expressed an interest in public relations and needed help with résumés and portfolios.
These skills can be beneficial in many different careers, said Goldman, not just in the communications field. Of the 19 students enrolled in her class, she said, a dozen come from other disciplines like computer science, math, English, business administration, international affairs, biology and political science.
“Working in the virtual space can be challenging,” Crosby said, “but we remind students that digital technologies are continuously being used in professional communication in all areas.”
Senior Heather Wood is taking Scientific Lit in a Pandemic and spending the month examining scientific journal articles on COVID-19. She then compares them to what is being written about the virus in popular media like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
“It’s exciting to learn about new medications and vaccines,” Wood said. The speaking intensive course is preparing her and her classmates to share evidence-based research with the general public in their future careers. The scientific discoveries they’re reading about now may very well stop viruses in their tracks.
But as for UMW’s J-term, Wood said she hopes the enthusiasm will continue to spread.