D-Term allows for opportunities outside majors, flexible structure

By Ruby Dickson

Last month, Lawrence held the second annual December Term or “D-Term.” Students were invited to spend two weeks of their winter break on campus to take intensive, interdisciplinary courses taught by select college and Conservatory professors.

Milwaukee-Downer College and College Endowment Association Professor of Liberal Studies and Professor of French Eilene Hoft-March has taken a leading role in the efforts to establish D-Term, a program still in its developing stages. According to her, the two-week program was the brainchild of a faculty committee in 2013. “The idea was, we have this big long stretch of time in the winter, and we know some students can’t or don’t want to go home for whatever reason. What if we had some sort of short educational opportunity for them?” Hoft-March said.

During the 2013-2014 school year, three Lawrence professors invited a select group of students to a pilot program at Bjorklunden, where they experimented with rigorous short-term coursework and the logistics of a winter program. “We got some really good feedback from our pilot experience at Bjorklunden the year before last,” acknowledged Hoft-March. The inaugural program was small-scale, but the participating students gave constructive comments that shaped the program’s course offerings.

For the second year of D-Term in 2015-16, Lawrence initially offered a wide range of different courses, managing the course schedule by cutting certain classes after students demonstrated their registration preferences. By the end of Fall Term, students could sign up for a final roster of five courses, a KIPP Academy internship program or an opera intensive workshop.

With the help of Bon Appétit and campus housing, students were allowed to stay on campus and attend several classes. These included Assistant Professor of Philosophy Mark Phelan’s course on philosophy and literature, Assistant Professor of Biology Brian Piasecki’s course on scientific visualization and Professor of Theatre Arts Timothy Troy’s class on Fringe theatre. Many Conservatory students also stayed on campus to rehearse for this year’s production of “The Beggar’s Opera.”

Through these courses, students were able to explore interdisciplinary topics they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to study. Professor Piasecki’s course focused on presenting data through visuals. He believed that although the topic is difficult to incorporate into a typical term-length class, it’s important to learn. “I had students think about how to visually present scientific information with a quantitative aspect, because so much of our world now incorporates visual media. We’re bombarded every day with information and images, and we need to think about how we consume that information,” Piasecki said.

D-Term was not limited to on-campus coursework, and two professors planned trips to give students hands-on experience with class material. Associate Professor of Art Rob Neilson led a student trip to Miami to attend the Miami Basel Art Fair. Associate Professor of Religious Studies Martyn Smith scheduled a trip to Istanbul, intending to explore the history and culture of Turkish religion. Despite the course’s popularity, however, it was ultimately cancelled after a terror attack in the city.

Professors and students alike generally expressed satisfaction with D-Term. “The beauty of a D-Term class is that there’s no general structure, so you can make it suit the discipline,” said Piasecki.

Junior PJ Uhazie stayed on campus for the opera workshop and noted that, “It was kind of a ghost town on campus, but it was really nice to hang out with a few people here [on campus]… I would definitely do it again.”

While the planning for next year is still in its elementary stages, the course offerings list includes 32 proposed classes for the two-week program.