New JanTerm selection blends diverse interests

As JanTerm selection made its return this fall, students debating over what courses to request found themselves with over a dozen new options for the three-week, highly-specialized program.  Through a combination of popular demand, new teachers on the scene, or updates on old courses, this year’s catalog saw the addition of courses delving into everything from science fiction to the city of New Orleans.

Among those fourteen new courses offered are “Creative Design & Welding”, “Criminology”, “Cryptography & History”, “Current Events: the Election, Terrorism & Guns”, “Documentary Poetry”, “Flight, Fight or Freeze: The Psychology of Fear”, “From Trash to Treasure”, “Leadership 101”, “New Orleans: History, Culture & Memory”, “Physics of Sports”, “Science Fiction in American Historical Context”, “STEAM Workshop: Innovation, Science & Art”, “Women Writers & Feminism”, and “Communication & the Camera”.

“Many of the new JanTerm courses were developed in direct response to student interest expressed after JanTerm16,” said JanTerm coordinator Chanley Small.

In fact, some of those courses created by popular demand include “Leadership 101”—whose focus on analyzing leadership theories includes off-campus meetings with local leaders—and “Current Events: the Election, Terrorism & Guns”, which aims to explore the issues behind the 2016 election.

One other course created in this way, “Physics of Sports”, arose almost as a necessity to student interests.

While many JanTerm courses feature exciting overnight trips to artists’ retreats or elsewhere, for those with winter sports, traveling is out of the question.  “Physics in Sports” offers a solution in its project-based investigations that cater to a student’s sport of interest and fun excursions to places like SkyZone to study the physics of flips.

“The things we do on a regular basis all have science connected to it,” said course instructor Henrik Malmberg. “it can be fun to get some stats and compare one athlete to another…[students] may even improve their own athleticism in their sport that way.”

Since its inception JanTerm has provided an opportunity for all types of students to pursue their deeper interests, and “From Trash to Treasure” and “STEAM Workshop: Innovation, Science & Art” are two more courses joining the many science-based JanTerms this year.  While the former intends to explore Westminster’s waste stream and put its content to new use, the latter works with students’ passion for math, robotics, science, and/or art to create a final project made from thrift-store items.  Open to students from all grades, the course also offers an advanced level for those in AP or studio art-level classes.

For the even more artistic students on the JanTerm spectrum, new courses like “Creative Design and Welding” and “Documentary Poetry” allow participants to immerse themselves in three weeks of nonstop creative development.

“When Michael Reese joined the faculty as a photographer and discovered that poetry and photography work so well together, we made a creative writing course that allows you to explore the image,” said “Documentary Poetry” course instructor Mario Chard.

In addition to visiting sites for inspiration both in and out of Atlanta, the class focuses on  how students write about actual, contemporary events through both poetry and photography, developing and redefining their image of the world.

“Poetry is a way of understanding the world, and by exploring image through poetry, I hope [students] leave feeling like they’re able to see their world anew,” said Chard.”

Other new JanTerms similarly focusing on facets of communication range from “Women Writers and Feminism” and “Science Fiction in American Historical Context” to “Communication and the Camera”, a class examing the different jobs that go into a production beyond surface acting.

“The idea is to give students exposure to careers in the entertainment industry that are not just the people we see onscreen,” said course instructor Stephen Addcox.

In addition to introducing students to the variety of “backstage” careers in the entertainment world, the class plans to delve deeper into what it takes to succeed at those jobs through visits to journalism, performance, and radio centers around Atlanta.

Unsurprising for a program designed to showcase the most unique interests of not only its student but also faculty body, this year’s JanTerm features several interesting new courses less tied to an instructor’s academic subject.  “Cryptography and History” and “New Orleans: History, Culture & Memory” are two such courses—culminating in a code-breaking challenge and a trip to New Orleans, respectively—as is “Criminology”.  For the three weeks they take the course, students will investigate the criminal justice system, both its actors and its flaws, through a series of off-campus trips, guest speakers, and documentaries.

“When I was a senior, I took a course on criminology that was absolutely fascinating,” said course instructor Daina Kelly. “Janterm is the perfect opportunity to do something I’m passionate about but isn’t my normal area of teaching…[students] become more aware and open to preventing crime and don’t stigmatize it or assign stereotypes.”

Out of the same spirit of JanTerm being a chance to explore a side interest comes “Flight, Fight, or Freeze: the Psychology of Fear”, a course dedicated to learning about the chemical and psychological processes behind fear.  Over the course of three weeks, students will take improv lessons, attend self-defence courses, watch scary movies, navigate ropes courses and more before writing a mini-paper on a topic of their choice.

“I used to take trapeze lessons, and it was terrifying and exhilarating all at once,” said one of the course instructors Reanna Ursin.  “So I thought: how amazing would it be if I could expose students to something like that?  How do we confront and move past the things that terrify us?  That’s the core idea.”

As both teachers and students alike look forward to those three weeks of exploration unique to Westminster, JanTerm remains a program as dynamic as the people for whom it was designed.  Tirelessly, year after year, every step of the process is considered, planned out, and revised as the program and the people behind it strive to represent an ever-changing array of interests.

“New JanTerm ideas are discussed in the spring and teachers spend hours over the summer developing these new courses,” said Small.  “It is definitely a labor of love!”