The advent of summer does not mean that education stops at the University of Virginia. Even before the Final Exercises were held, officially ending the 2012-13 academic year, Summer Session courses were under way.
U.Va. has been offering courses in the summertime since 1904, when it was simply referred to as “summer school.” Course offerings in the early days of the summer lessons included “Anatomy of the Nervous System,” “Plant Botany,” French, German, geography and drawing classes.
The current traditional Summer Session is really several different sessions, each about four weeks in duration, with each course typically meeting for two to three hours a day.
Typically, but not always: this year, the University has added some shorter-duration courses, meeting for up to five hours a day for about two weeks, based on the January Term model.
“The popularity of the two-week session is increasing, but not every course is a good fit,” said Rachel Nottingham Miller, associate director of the Summer Session and special academic programs.
With an enrollment of around 4,000, Summer Session is a mix of traditional courses, such as “Introduction to Archaeology,” “Principles of Economics” and “Modern Political Thought,” drawn from the College of Arts & Sciences and many of the University’s other schools; electives that satisfy degree requirements; and the Summer Language Institute, an intensive language-instruction program that has about 170 enrollees.
The most popular Summer Session course, by far, is Organic Chemistry, a requirement for pre-med students with a reputation for academic rigor.
“Organic chemistry is a 100-seat class and it fills the first day we open enrollment,” Miller said. “If students take organic chemistry in the summer, it gives them the chance to focus on just one thing.”
U.Va.’s Summer Session is open to everyone, though U.Va. students receive class registration priority. Students from other colleges and universities make arrangements to transfer credits back to their home school.
Summer is also an opportunity for incoming first-year and transfer students to get a jumpstart on their U.Va. careers while adjusting to the U.Va. culture.
“We have about 200 who enter in July for the third Summer Session,” Miller said. “We have a special orientation for them to make for a smoother transition.”
There are also Rainey Scholars, 50 selected AccessUVA full-scholarship recipients entering as first-years – often first-generation college students – who will take two Summer Session classes to get their college careers going. They will receive special attention as they make the transition from high school.
“They are stellar students who are given some advising on what classes to take,” Miller said.
Students have many reasons to take classes during the summer, such as building more flexibility into their future schedule or satisfying the requirements of a dual major. Summer Session also includes many student-athletes who are looking to open training time in their regular semester schedules by taking courses in the summer, as well as students looking at shortening the overall time it takes them to earn a degree. (In May, 82 members of the class of 2013 received their degrees in three years or less.)
Aside from traditional students, the summer session is open to community members who want to learn a language or gain information without seeking college credit. Courses cost the same whether the student is seeking credit or not.
Marigail Wynne of Charlottesville, a retired physician, enrolled in the Summer Language Institute to learn Swahili. Wynne travels frequently in Tanganyika to do missionary work with orphans for her church, Buck Mountain Episcopal in Earlysville.
“When we go to a village, we have a translator, but I want to be able to relate to the people,” she said. “I pick up a little, but I feel I need to know more.”
Her classes start June 10. Her goal is to speak Swahili fluently when she is done, and also to meet Swahili speakers in the community, so she has someone with whom to practice when she is not traveling.
The Summer Language Institute, which has been part of the Summer Session for 32 years, offers instruction in 10 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian Latin, Spanish, Tibetan and Russian, with long, intense class sessions. The popularity of various languages ebbs and flows over the years; Tibetan, which had been very popular at one point, has shown a slight decline, while Chinese has held steady and there is a growing interest in Arabic, which was only recently added, Miller said.
The institute also offers an English-as-a-second-language course, English for Academic Purposes, for international students entering the University. In that class, about 50 students work on their presentation skills, reading and speaking in anticipation of the their work at U.Va.
“Though the students arrive with strong English skills, we want to get them to a level where they can be very successful as students,” Miller said. “Some of them, depending on the discipline, are learning some very field-specific language.”
Local high school students also take advantage of Summer Session. If they have been recommended by their high school and have been reviewed by the Summer Session staff, they are allowed to take college-level courses. This is limited to local students because Miller said they must continue living at home.
Some of Summer Session’s future may lie with foreign students who could attend U.Va. during the summer as part of their overseas education.
Summer Session Profiles
UVA Today will highlight several of the University’s summer session offerings in an occasional series. Check back here for a listing of the articles.