January Term Offers Students Unusual Courses at Home and Abroad

December 28, 2006
Dec. 28, 2006 — Faculty and students at the University of Virginia have quickly embraced a new tradition as the successful January Term heads into its third year.

Come next month, hundreds of U.Va. students  will be embarking on academic adventures during J-term. The two-week, three-credit, intensive program has increased to 36 classes — a mixture of new offerings along with some courses brought back by popular demand. The number of study abroad sessions has doubled from four to eight.
“Faculty and students have seen J-term as a great opportunity and they’ve seized it,” said Dudley J. Doane, director of the winter program, as well as Summer Session. “We get exciting course proposals.”

Professors get the chance to create a different kind of learning experience for students and delve into a subject in new or different ways. About 450 students will get the chance to work with 26 faculty members (and 14 graduate instructors) whose classes they wouldn’t necessarily take during the regular semesters, Doane said. Most of the courses, which run from Jan. 2 through 12, have 20 or fewer students.

For those programs going abroad, the participants will focus on education and culture in Ghana, environmental study in Belize, and economic development in Nicaragua or in Tanzania. They’ll study literature in Ireland or Germany, Renaissance art in Italy or cinema in Spain.

Some students won’t need a passport for their off-grounds experience but will travel to view art in New York City museums with Jill Hartz, director of the University’s museum, to examine the modern and historic Pueblo culture in New Mexico with archaeologist Stephen Plog or to study a wildlife refuge on Poplar Island in professor Michael Gorman’s “Earth Systems Engineering Management” course.

In one of several new classes offered this year, a group of students will work with Robert L. Pressey, an internationally acclaimed conservation biologist, appointed as this year’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Visiting Professor. Pressey, from the University of Queensland in Australia, will teach his innovative ideas for systematic environmental planning and protection.

Other students will take a special course designed to complement the exhibit, “The Firebird and the Factory: The Russian Children’s Book (1890-1940),” on display in the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library. Assistant professor Margarita Nafpaktitis will expose the students to 20th-century Russian artists and writers in a course titled “Children of the Revolution: The Russian Children’s Book.” The exhibit features more than 100 rare illustrated modern Russian children’s picture books, original drawings, and posters from a private collection.

Looking at another creative medium, that of the printed word, Randolph Pope, Commonwealth Professor of Spanish and department chairman, has students turn inward in his new class, “The Care of the Self: A Comparative Literature Seminar.” The class will read and discuss selected texts from Greek and Roman authors, the Bible, European works from the Middle Ages to present day, Zen Buddhist texts, and the lyrics of rock music.

In the more physical sense, Dr. Vladimir Kryzhanovski offers a layperson’s introductory course on health care. He brings in a team of prominent experts from the U.Va. Health System to give students “a clear picture of the state of modern medicine from the laboratory table to the patient’s bedside.”

Teaching “Music, Health and Environment” for the second time, Heather Maxwell looks at health from another perspective. She has students play out ideas as they work with local youth from the Music Resource Center, outpatient clinics and rehabilitation centers. Students will consider questions, such as, “How do populations endow sound with the power to heal, repair and sustain?”

Another course using music as the vehicle for ideas, and being offered for the first time, asks students to challenge their assumptions about racial stereotypes and musical genres, including country, hip hop and New York Latin, according to instructor Sherrilynn Colby-Bottel, a doctoral student in anthropology and a professional jazz singer.

Other students attending J-Term will be able to study contemporary international topics on Grounds, in courses on nation-building in Iraq, post-Soviet political problems, or international security.

Some will have the opportunity to prepare for study abroad in “The Ethics, Protocols and Practices of International Research” with the interdisciplinary faculty team of Robert Swap, an environmental scientist who founded the Southern African Regional Science Initiative, and Michael J. Smith, the Sorenson Professor of Political and Social Thought, who focuses on international relations and human rights.

Still other students will seize the opportunity to get a seat in Larry Sabato’s popular “Virginia Government and Politics.”

A complete list of courses is available on the January Term Web site.