Unique Learning in January

Posted on September 1st, 2009 by

Changing the World workshop with singer/songwriters Carrie Newcomer and Neal Hagberg '81

Changing the World workshop with singer/songwriters Carrie Newcomer and Neal Hagberg '81

Kelly J. Nelson ’10

January Interim Experience (IEX) at Gustavus Adolphus College is a time for community growth, personal reflection, and a change of pace from the fall and spring semesters.

The more one learns about IEX, the more clear its uniqueness and value becomes. This four-week term at Gustavus offers a change of perspective for both students and professors, which are often transformative.

“When students encounter something different they are exposed to new information that allows them to see the world and things around them from a different angle, which is crucial in a liberal arts education,” says Mariangela Maguire, academic dean and director of on-campus experiences during January. From doing molecular protein research with faculty on campus to educating kids in Madagascar, January experiences are ones that students will remember. After the snow melts, the unique experiences of this time continue to enhance students’ lives.

January Interim Experience, or “J-Term,” as many call it, arose in the early 1960s. As a pioneer in offering a J-Term, Gustavus strove to offer more unique, in-depth classes. With sustained success from the intensive one-class experience, the nearly five decade tradition continues.

The 15-member Inauguration Politics: Washington, D.C., class will be among the estimated three million people at the inauguration of President Obama on the National Mall. Along with witnessing history, the students will visit monuments, museums, and several governmental and nongovernmental institutions and will also meet with a variety of individuals in political occupations.

Many classes explore the world, including travel courses to Ecuador and the Galapagos, Argentina, the United Kingdom, South Africa, India, Australia, and Tanzania. ChildrenHopeGuatemala, a class visiting Guatemala this January, is challenging comfort zones and the complacency many students have about how the world operates. Many of Guatemala’s citizens face heart-wrenching challenges that force them to survive on $2 a day, endure devastation after witnessing murders of their families by death squads, or struggle to obtain education or health care. “We don’t go down intending to help provide answers to any of these challenges, but rather to understand them,” says biology professor Jon Grinnell, one instructor of the course. “I think it will emphasize our privileged place in the world, and the responsibility that position of privilege bears.”

Another group of students, enrolled in Changing the World, is becoming aware of bigger world issues right from Minnesota. During the month, they seek answers to difficult questions of identity, purpose, and calling in life. “As they go deeply inward, they discover the passion and the hope that can sustain them in their lifelong callings to change the world,” says Chris Johnson, director for the Center of Vocational Reflection and course instructor/facilitator. This course included a weeklong workshop with singer/songwriter/activists Carrie Newcomer and Neal Hagberg ’81.

One would think a Horticulture class in Minnesota’s subzero weather would be impossible. But, the college’s greenhouse makes it possible for the 11 students in this class to grow and care for plants, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants. This horticulture immersion works with more than dirt and sun—it’s about human perception, service, the cohesion of art and science, and an understanding of what is beautiful to others. “Students come from all different perspective—biology, psychology, and art—and they come together to see things in a new way,” says Pamela Kittelson, biology professor. Each student will complete a landscape service project with a client.

Among many things, students this January Term are adopting a new appreciation for the privileged life in the U.S., taking steps to change the world, participating in an incredible historical event, and molding science and art to create something beautiful. January Interim Experience provides Gustavus students with experiences that are unique and meaningful, and equip them for a life of challenges and successes.


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