J-Term students dive into unique coursework

MIDDLEBURY — Despite the meager layer of snow half-heartedly draping campus, Middlebury College this week opened its Winter Term.
Students returned from their holidays to begin a unique month of intensive classwork, extracurricular workshops, skiing and socializing that is integral to the Middlebury experience.
What sets apart the Winter Term, more popularly known as J-Term because it last the month of January, from the rest of the academic year is that each student is registered for just one course credit. Most students take a class that meets at least eight hours a week, picking from a stimulating and diverse catalog of liberal arts options that are not typically available during the regular semester and are sometimes taught by visiting instructors.
Libby Jewett is one such visiting expert who is offering a J-Term class at Middlebury this month. As the founding director of the new NOAA Ocean Acidification Program, Jewett works in national marine conservation policymaking. She has taught marine science at George Washington University, American University, and the University of Maryland, and seizes every possible chance to interact with students.
“What’s great about it is that it gives people like myself who have other jobs the opportunity to teach and be in residence,” Jewett said.
Jewett first came to Middlebury two-and-a-half years ago when Economics Professor John Isham invited her to give a lecture on her work at NOAA for an Environmental Studies colloquium. He suggested then that she return to teach a winter course.
Motivated by her love for teaching, Jewett successfully put in a proposal for this term and now has a full class, the environmental studies class ENVS 1030, “Changing Our Impact on the Ocean: An Interactive Deep Dive.”
While Middlebury is a long way from an ocean, Jewett hopes to inspire her students by using geographic case studies to show how human beings affect the ocean and how local and international communities react to these effects. Units in the course will cover important topics in marine conservation, such as nutrient pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, ocean acidification in Washington and Maine, fish species management off the Alaskan coast, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
And, though the topic may be a long way from Addison County, the type of classwork should be familiar. It will encompass readings, discussions, short position papers, group projects, mock policymaking sessions and presentations. The final project will require students to apply the knowledge they will have acquired by designating their own marine protected areas off the U.S. coast.
Jewett said she is excited about the course because she created it herself. She hopes to supplement the college curriculum with facts and discussion on ocean science and policy without overwhelming students. She aims to interactively immerse pupils in policymaking and even prepare interested ones for futures in the field.
“It’s wonderful that Middlebury continues to have this J-Term phenomena,” she said.
The instructor thinks students benefit from the chance to fully focus on just one class during J-Term. She says that even though compressing so much material into such a short timespan is tricky, the term is a welcome change from her typical 40-hour workweek.
By offering opportunities to experts like her to teach one-month courses, Jewett said, “Middlebury (gets) access to a broad range of talent and expertise that they wouldn’t if they were just trying to pull people in to teach semester-long classes.”
Jewett’s “Deep Dive” class is but one of the out-of-the-ordinary offerings that makes Middlebury’s J-Term special.
This winter one of the J-Term courses, “History’s Great Debates,” is almost completely student-led — proposed, designed and conducted by a student leading a small group of peers under the guidance of a faculty supervisor.
In another J-Term class, INTD 1172, “Garden of the Empire: History and Myth in Crimea,” students are taking an interdisciplinary approach to discussions about Crimea. They are examining this Eastern European region on the northern edge of the Black Sea through the lenses of history, literature, politics and environmental studies, reading relevant poetry, fiction, scholarly articles and news reports, and looking at movies and photographs on the subject.
Again they have a unique opportunity to study with an instructor who isn’t a typical professor — Dimiter Kenarov. A freelance journalist and poet, Kenarov has covered the Balkans and Black Sea region for Esquire, Foreign Policy, The International New York Times, The Nation, Outside, The Atlantic and other publications.
The college’s GIS Specialist/Teaching Fellow Bill Hegman is teaching GEOG 1007, “Putting Business on the Map: Today’s Geospatial Industry,” with Chelsea Minton. Through interactive case studies, guest speakers and field trips, the geography students are exploring the major practices, actors and products of the geospatial industry and the retail, government, energy and agricultural sectors it serves. Minton, a 2008 graduate of Middlebury, is a geospatial professional experienced in a variety of geospatial software and services across the spheres of energy, oil and gas, agriculture, environmental management and government.
While freshmen must remain on campus during Winter Term, some others are pursuing an off-campus credit by taking a class through Middlebury’s Monterey Institute for International Studies in Monterey, Calif.; El Salvador; Peru; or Rwanda. A handful of students are also earning credit by completing an internship that aligns with their academic or professional interests.
Because it grants them a significant amount of time outside the classroom, J-Term is synonymous with play term to some Middkids. Many of them spend large chunks of their days hitting the ski slopes.
They also participate in winter workshops, which the college’s Student Activities Team organizes for the entire college community to explore different activities and gain new knowledge and skills. These include wellness workshops, such as one on yoga and another on “Using Herbs, Meditation and Lifestyle Choices to Maintain Balance in the Midst of Stress.” They also include outdoor workshops, such as ice climbing, frozen lake excursions, ice skating, kayak rolling, a leave-no-trace trainer course and hunter education.
The catalog features a number of dance workshops as well, such as one that teaches the hula and Tahitian ‘Ote’a, which promises to transport participants from wintry Vermont to the tropical islands of Polynesia. Additionally, students are partaking in food- and drink-related workshops about beer, tea and Italian and Hong Kong cuisine.
Sophomore Jennifer Damian registered for Jewett’s “Deep Dive” class because she wanted an introduction to ocean science and marine policy, which she considers a potential career path. She looks forward to the knowledge Jewett’s expertise has to offer.
Damian plans to take some free one-day workshops imparting skills such as research and résumé writing. Because she does not get time to read during the semester, she aims to use this term to read nonfiction books about China and other Asian countries she is unfamiliar with. She will also spend a lot more hours continuing her job as a recycler at the college’s recycling facility.
 “J-Term’s awesome,” she said. “I like having free time.”

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