Experiential Winter Study

Busy is not an adjective often heard in winter study, and I wouldn’t argue that it should be. The month is a clear, and often much-needed, change of pace from the average semester at Williams, and most students enjoy the down time. We roll out of bed at noon; we watch hours of reality television; we spend evenings partying or lazing around with our suitemates.

However, for every student eager to embrace the time off there is a student frustrated by his or her newfound lack of direction. Not everyone can deal with such a great amount of free time, and many become more disillusioned as they tire of the class they’re taking, particularly when the course deals with a very specific, and often seemingly irrelevant, topic. If the course’s focus bores students, they’re left with little motivation to work and even less desire to continue with what may be their only scheduled commitment.

Winter Study remains a great opportunity – a rare chance to enjoy all the College has to offer without the pressure of a regular semester. However, the administration should take a second look at the month’s format.

Most notably, the College should reevaluate the types of courses offered, and make a strong effort to offer more experiential-learning options and short-term internships. Thus, rather than mimicking short semester courses, Winter Study classes would adopt a different format entirely in order to maximize potential.

Such a shift would be clearly possible today, as the College has recently confirmed its belief in the value of alternative learning methods. With the recent hiring of an Experiential Learning Coordinator, the administration is working to further integrate experiential learning into the College’s course offerings. A forum next week will discuss how to bring more experiential learning into the curriculum.

Winter Study seems like the most appropriate place to integrate experiential learning options into the College’s course offerings. The more flexible schedule would allow students to devote themselves to one course in a manner that would be impracticable during the rest of the academic year. Additionally, the month-long time span is conducive to student-internship work, as a month would give students enough time to get the feel of a career option, without the full commitment of a summer job. These month-long internships and volunteer opportunities would give students a chance to sample career possibilities and gain experience in a manner not possible in the classroom.

Winter Study internships and work opportunities would also further interaction between students and the community around them. With programs such as Where Am I working to bridge the gap between students and the Berkshire community, internships could serve a similar function. Even the simple course catalog listings of work and volunteer options in the area would raise campus awareness.

Likewise, successful student-organization pairings could translate into further involvement, with students continuing part-time work during the semester, and even the summer. Beyond Williamstown, students could work for museums, nonprofit organizations, publications and businesses in North Adams, Bennington and even New York.

An internship program would also prove conducive to the flexibility of the Winter Study schedule. With ample free time, students could work as many hours as the organization deemed necessary. Ideally, internships would comprise a 25-30 hour work week, with students reporting to work for five afternoons, or for three or four full days a week. While such a program would entail more hours than the average winter study class currently meets, internships would generate minimal outside-of-class work – something that few students can motivate themselves to do during Winter Study.

The College’s current experiential Winter Study course offerings are an indication of the potential of an expanded program. The Berkshire Farm volunteer program, the various teaching practica and the program allowing students to shadow area doctors are a few examples of successful experiential-learning options.

Other departments, including the psychology department, offer to sponsor internships if students find the jobs themselves. However, there is currently no list of opportunities or recent student-organization match-ups to guide interested students. It’s important that the College offers students this opportunity, and it must endeavor to do a greater job aiding those interested.As much as we all enjoy sitting around, winter study should also be a time for students to take risks outside the classroom. Experiential learning courses would give Williams students the chance to experiment and gain experience in different fields.

Accordingly, internship courses would allow for the greatest personal growth among participating students. amd would also be a tremendous selling point for the College.

The College has taken a step in the right direction by hiring a new Experiential Learning Coordinator; if the Winter Study curriculum is revamped, January could be as valuable academically asit is socially.