Throughout First Days and the beginning of drop/add, the Your 32: Your Chance to Explore initiative encouraged students to make the most of their course selection this semester through exploration of and engagement with their class choices.
Jeffrey Rubel ’17, the student chair of the Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA), and Allegra Simon ’18, College Council (CC) VP of academic affairs, spearheaded the programming, which included videos, emails and geotags.
The initiative, which is named for the 32 semester courses students must complete to obtain a degree, encourages students to take more active and engaged roles in selecting courses outside of their comfort zones.
“We want you to take control of [your courses]. We don’t want you to feel that they’re things that just happen to you,” Rubel said.
The initiative is comprised of several parts, each designed to raise awareness of, in Rubel and Simon’s words, a “cultural shift” towards course exploration. Your 32 posters, with references to Hamilton and Taylor Swift, among other things, are posted all over campus, along with matching cover photos on Facebook and a Snapchat geofilter.
Rubel and Simon also sent an email to the student body at the beginning of drop/add period, encouraging students to, “Use the first two days of the semester to explore all the Williams curriculum has to offer. Do not limit yourself to the courses you pre-registered for.” This peer-to-peer approach reduces the “intimidation factor” that an email from a faculty member or administrator might have, Simon said.
The Adjusting to Academic Life session during First Days opened with Rubel’s story of finding one of his academic passions, food studies, by spontaneously taking a course on the cookbook. The session also featured a video with testimonials from various students and professors on the value of taking courses outside one’s comfort zone, which can be a way of discovering hidden talents or passions.
“To some degree, the intended audience for the Your 32 campaign are the first-year students,” Rubel said. “First-years do not have preconceived notions about add-drop period, and they can move this idea of course exploration forward. If we can get [first-year students] to think of add-drop period as a way to explore the curriculum, then we can create a lasting cultural shift.”
Finally, the CEA produced a guide, aimed at first-years but sent to all students, on how to email professors. This guide functioned as a practical tool for exploring courses by giving students the resources to email professors, perhaps to sit in on a first class meeting or to find out more about a course in which they are interested.
The idea for the initiative came from conversations between Rubel and Simon at the beginning of the spring 2016 semester. Simon characterized it as “almost a self-questioning” of why drop/add period was not really used to explore courses, noting an attitude of “It’s just not done.” Both Rubel and Simon said that the key element of a liberal arts education is taking courses outside your comfort zone. Thus, the opportunity to explore during add-drop is key, as “you are more likely to go outside your comfort zone if you experience it first [through visiting the class],” Simon said.
Over the summer, the CEA, which is made up of both students and faculty, explored several ideas, including changing the name of drop/add period to “Course Exploration Period,” but this was not a possibility. Instead, members came up with the Your 32 awareness campaign as another method of, in Simon’s words, “Creating a cultural shift and continuing the conversation on ‘why liberal arts.’”
“A name change is just one way of making a cultural shift,” Simon said.
Both Simon and Rubel agreed that the success of the initiative may be difficult to measure quantitatively, but rather, that they will assess it by how much the rhetoric of course exploration and engagement enters student lexicon. Simon said that she has begun to hear students speak about exploring their courses.
“We’ll feel a cultural shift if it happens … when I was a freshman, no one ever told me to go sit in on classes. I simply didn’t know that was a thing. The very fact that people now know that’s a thing is a benchmark of success,” Simon said.
The CEA and CC are looking for ways to institutionalize the campaign. One idea is to make it a more permanent responsibility of the CC VP for academic affairs. Both Rubel and Simon stressed the importance of continuing to form this culture of academic exploration and engagement in the years to come.
“We are encouraging people to embrace their liberal arts educations,” Rubel said.