January Term Enters Its Fifth Year With 30 Courses

January 04, 2009
January 5, 2009 — The University of Virginia's January Term is celebrating its fifth anniversary and still going strong, despite the recession.

Dudley Doane, director of the program, said he was initially concerned that the slowing economy would reduce student interest. However, enrollment in international study courses is on par with last year, and there was only a slight drop-off in signups for the domestic classes.

"We have a lot of third- and fourth-year students who plan on taking a course to complete their degree or because it is a topic in which they are really interested," Doane said.

Approximately 600 students are enrolled in 21 domestic and eight overseas January Term — or "J-Term" — courses. The classes run for only nine days, from Jan. 2 through 10, so students receive intensive course work in their chosen subject.

Among the popular returning classes is "Nation Building in Iraq," taught by associate politics professor David Waldner. This course quickly reached its 41-student limit, the largest enrollment of any J-Term course.

"Literature in Ireland," taught by Elizabeth Fowler, associate professor of English, and Victor Luftig, an associate professor of English and director of the Center for the Liberal Arts, is being offered for the fourth time. The classes are held on the Emerald Isle, so students can see how the land and the country affect writers' work.

"We get to give the students a more memorable experience," Luftig said. "They get to experience literary locations and feel the relationship between place and literature."
Doane said while there are repeat classes, the J-Term is also an opportunity to try out new courses. New offerings must be approved by the department and then reviewed by the Committee on Educational Policy and Curriculum.

New on the schedule are an anthropology course, "Africa Through Film," taught by graduate student Felistas Njoki Osots; an art course, "Drawing I and II," taught by art professor Megan Marlett; "Biological and Environmental Conservation in the Chesapeake Bay Region," taught by associate professor Fred Diehl of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies and professor David Smith of the Department of Environmental Sciences; and "The Dark Side of the Twentieth Century: Between Auschwitz and the Gulag," taught by associate professor Dariusz Tolczyk of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

Among the new study-abroad courses are "Disaster Preparedness in the West Indies," taught in St. Kitts and St. Nevis by Dr. Marcus Martin, an assistant dean in the School of Medicine and a professor in emergency medicine; "Case Study of Agricultural Production, Manufacture and Distribution," taught in Argentina by Reid Bailey, assistant professor of systems and information engineering; and "An Exploration of the Natural and Built Environment and Public Health," taught in Guatemala by Dr. David R. Burt of the School of Medicine and associate professors Dana Elzey of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Doris Greiner of the School of Nursing.

Some courses are interdisciplinary. "An Exploration of the Natural and Built Environment and Public Health," for example, is offered through the schools of Engineering, Nursing and Medicine.

Dividing a course among three teachers can sometimes be difficult, said Elzey, director of international programs at the Engineering School. He said most of the challenges they face are simply logistical, such as how to divide the student group.

"When you see the rewards, you overcome the barriers," Elzey said.

J-Term also provides an opportunity for some students in majors that require a lot of time on Grounds to have a study-abroad experience, Luftig said.

The program doubled in size from its first to its third year — "We have attracted some of the top faculty members from the beginning," Doane said by way of explanation — though enrollment has been level for the past two years.

— By Matt Kelly