KINGSTON, R.I. – February 26, 2015 – When the University of Rhode Island began offering winter session classes during the 2014 academic year, word spread quickly about the benefits of the accelerated, focused coursework and opportunities for global experiences.
Last year’s success has led to a surge in popularity for the fledgling program, which experienced a 50 percent increase in enrollment during the recent 2015 session, which ended January 16.
After enrolling 404 students in 2014, the University expanded its offerings for 2015, allowing 606 students to experience the intensive, multi-disciplinary programs.
“I think we had a natural progression in mind for the J Term year to year, but a 50 percent increase in enrollment was shocking,” said John Olerio, coordinator for URI’s Winter J Term and summer programs. “We thought it would increase 25 or 30 percent.”
After the success in 2014, Olerio said there was a heightened interest not just from students, but also from faculty. The program gives students and professors the opportunity to enter an intensive two-week period of study in which they are able to focus all of their academic efforts on a single topic.
“We have faculty who are asking to teach during January, which is completely optional, and they’re really excited about it. These are courses they don’t necessarily get to teach in fall or spring, and they’re eager to do it at an accelerated pace,” Olerio said.
“The feedback we’re getting from the students is that, unlike the fall or spring when their minds are all over the place on four or five courses, they enjoy being able to focus on one subject for 3 to 5 hours a day for the duration of the term. They get very familiar with the coursework and the professors, and, more than that, they form close bonds with the other students and they appreciate that.”
In addition to the 29 on-campus classes now offered — six more than last year — the University added 10 travel courses, allowing students to study in 18 off-campus locales such as Hawaii, South America, the Caribbean, Europe and more.
URI students were able to experience history during their J Term travels this year, with a group of students studying in Paris during the Charlie Hebdo rallies, and another group studying in Cuba, shortly after President Barack Obama moved to normalize relations with the Communist nation.
Engineering students visiting Chile worked on a service-learning project to create portable anaerobic energy systems to share with people in rural communities.
Reduced tuition makes such travel more accessible to students, with 159 taking the opportunity to broaden their horizons this year, an increase of 60 percent over the 96 who traveled during J Term in 2014.
The reduced tuition also makes on-campus study more financially feasible for out-of-state students, who can remain in their dormitories and on-campus housing at no additional cost for the J Term. This has proven to be an attractive option to out-of-state students, who make up 38 percent of the enrolled J Term students, up 3 percent from last year.
One such group that has benefited is a handful of graduate students from Gadja Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Engaged in a year of study at URI, the graduate students were able to make the most of their time in the United States as they spent J Term in the graduate course Fisheries Stock Assessment. The Indonesian contingent spent two weeks working at East Farm to learn a quantitative approach to describing the processes of fish growth and mortality, the estimation of stock size, the prediction of stock yield, and management practices.
The University is also using the J Term to help students prepare for life after graduation through its Career Planning: Concepts and Skills courses. Students studying in the Harrington School of Communication and Media can travel to New York, Stamford, Conn., and Providence to meet, network with and learn from communications professionals in public relations, marketing, corporate communications and other such careers. Another section takes students on a Rhode Trip across the state, to visit businesses and places such as the Department of Labor and Training, where they were able to participate in question and answer sessions, interview with potential employers and gather information to help guide their career path.
“Many of the students have said these are the best classes they’ve taken at URI and they changed their outlook on the job market,” Olerio said. “I think the programs helped students see that the job market isn’t as bleak as it may have been two or three years ago and that the prospects for getting a job here in Rhode Island after graduation are much better.”
Given the success of the programs, Olerio hopes to expand the career planning offerings for 2016, along with additional new J Term classes. Olerio hopes to see at least 35 on-campus classes for next year. He’d like to see the University offer enough classes to meet the needs of all students for four years, which would allow them to earn nearly a semester’s worth of credits over the course of a four-year academic career.
The credits would allow students to perhaps graduate early, or catch up if needed. Additionally, it keeps them engaged in intellectual pursuits during the dreary winter months, giving them a leg up when it’s time to return to full-time study.
“Most of the students seem to agree that when they finish the J Term, they’re more prepared for spring,” he said. “They don’t have to shake the cobwebs off. They’re ready to roll.”