Increase in J-term opportunities for students

By Sarah Dillard

For many liberal arts students in the U.S., the period be­tween academic semesters is a popular period to pursue vo­cational or service opportunities outside of class. Programs for off-campus study were once prevalent at Macalester when students were required to earn credit during the January break (J-term), but after the requirement was phased out a few years ago, options have dwindled. Since then, students have had the option to travel through both department-sponsored and indi­vidually-designed programs, complete internships or work on independent study projects, all for a maximum of two credits. According to the Registrar’s Office, 104 students registered for at least one credit during J-term in January 2012. While international trips have been fairly popular among students in the past, they have seen a decline in attendance as their cost has risen over the last few years. A psychology de­partment trip to Australia originally planned for the upcoming January, Animal Observation and Behavior, was cancelled in September after failing to attract enough student interest. The course, which would have cost approximately $6,000, would have focused specifically on elements of animal psychology within the context of the culture and geography of Australia. The religious studies and economics departments plan to jointly host a January trip option to Cambodia this year, although the exact number of students attending has not yet been finalized. The course, Cambodia: Culture, History and Development, will include one week in Siem Reap (near Ang­kor Wat) and two weeks in the capital city of Phnom Penh, where students will explore issues of development, econom­ics, politics and religion. For religious studies professor Erik Davis, this trip offers an opportunity to share a place of personal importance with members of the Macalester community. “I find [Cambodia] academically fascinating and person­ally enriching and gratifying,” Davis said. “I needed to find a way to share that with students.” Another option available for those wishing to travel abroad during their January break is run entirely by students. Three years ago, Alexa Wilcox ’13 organized a group of Ma­calester students to travel to Guatemala and work with the small non-profit Rising Minds after working with them it­self. The organization, which aims to “bridge cultural, eco­nomic and developmental gaps through the integration of education, awareness and action,” works with individuals and small groups in Guatemalan communities to design projects that create sustainable change. During the January trip, Macalester students work with the organization for two weeks on a project tailored to the group’s particular interests. Last year, students helped to cre­ate a restroom out of old soda bottles for a school. For Paul Rebman ’14, going to Guatemala through the program last year was an opportunity to understand class work on development in a real world setting. “I was able to see the real complexities of development and aid,” said Rebman. He described his appreciation for Rising Minds’ “no handout” model, which creates sustainable solutions by en­abling people to make a difference themselves. “The trip is about empowering people to realize that they can make a change in their own communities,” Rebman said. “It’s really about the broader impact we can have.” The program costs $1,500, which includes accommoda­tions and food but not airfare. Students have the opportunity to receive a $350 travel grant from Macalester in order to cover part of the cost. Some have additionally been able to arrange “barter scholarships” with Rising Minds in exchange for services like helping with promotional materials. Last year seven students went on the trip, although a minimum of 12 are needed this year for continuance of the program. Student coordinators anticipate that they will have no problem meeting the requirement because of wide turnout at initial informational meetings. Applications are due Octo­ber 19. Internships are the most popular J-term option for Ma­calester students. Forty-eight students interned in January 2012 in a variety of locations, including the Twin Cities, other locations in the U.S. and abroad. For Mike Porter, director of the Internship Office, J-term internships offer the perfect opportunity to explore a career or stay focused during the break. “I am a really strong advocate for students utilizing their 5-week-long January break in a way that will help them gain experience,” Porter said. The Career Development Center also offers opportuni­ties for students to narrow their professional focus over break through their career exploreship program. This particular program, which is in its third year, pairs sophomore students with alumni all over the U.S. for job-shadowing opportuni­ties. According to Porter, 78 sophomores took advantage of this opportunity in 2012. Other students hoping to take advantage of the break have the option to work with academic departments to shape independent study projects to be carried out during the five-week hiatus. Since the cost of credits earned during J-term is factored into students’ overall tuition, many work to incorporate credit earning opportunities into their schedules. Although many trips abroad have faced low levels of at­tendance and cancellation, there are still numerous opportuni­ties for students interested in innovative J-term experiences. refresh –>