January 2022

Between Thanksgiving and the end of January, many students at Minnesota’s private colleges and universities have the opportunity to engage in short, intensive experiences that allow them to learn more about different industries or spend time focusing on just one class. Here are three Minnesota colleges that give students the opportunity to do something out-of-the-ordinary after fall term ends but before spring term begins.

Bethel University: Interim offers a change of pace

Since 1970, Bethel University has devoted most of the month of January to interim, which allows students to focus on one class for four weeks. All students who enroll as freshmen must take at least three years of interim courses. And, since the cost of interim is already a part of a student’s tuition, it’s to the student’s advantage to take full benefit of this offering.

Students can choose from several options during January, including study abroad — one of the most popular ways to spend the month. Even with the continuing pandemic, Bethel was able to arrange five study abroad options for interim this year, including Ecology in the Tropics in Ecuador and European Pioneers in Psychology, which takes students to different European countries. Students are also welcome to enroll in third-party study abroad programs.

Bethel students explore Vienna's old city center
Bethel students explore Vienna's old city center to learn about major figures in the history of psychology. (photo: Angela Sabates)

On-campus classes allow students to pursue major courses, such as a storytelling course for media production majors, or general education courses. The annual interim theater production, which is a musical every other year, gives students an opportunity to get a general education credit or, in some cases, a credit toward their major. Students might also engage in research alongside a professor or pursue an internship.

Outside of the classroom, many students participate in a very competitive recreational broomball league that is only available during interim. Carter Nelson ’23 noted that broomball was especially welcome last year when students were experiencing the isolating effects of the pandemic. “You couldn’t go to other people’s dorms, so it was a great time for all of us to come together outside,” he said.

Julie Finnern, associate provost for the College of Arts and Sciences, said that students get the most out of interim by using the opportunity to focus and take a course that will need more of their attention or to pursue something that they are interested in that is a little different from the things they’ve done before. “I think one thing students like about interim is being able to focus on one class and experience a different rhythm from the rest of the year. It’s a chance to take a thoughtful, meaningful breath in their learning,” she said.

Carleton College: Winter externships provide opportunities for career exploration

Carleton College is on a trimester schedule, and its winter break stretches from Thanksgiving until early January. Approximately 12 percent of students take advantage of this lengthy break to explore different career paths through the college’s externship program.

Carleton recruits alumni, parents and families of current students, and friends of the college to provide one- to three-week externship opportunities. Students apply for the externships, and then the externship hosts rank the candidates. Based on these rankings, Carleton uses software to match as many students with externships as possible.

Because they are brief, the externships are necessarily exploratory. In some, students shadow one or more people at an organization, getting a feel for day-to-day life on the job. Others offer the opportunity to tackle a small project. All emphasize experiential learning. To get the most out of their externships, students attend an orientation, set goals, and write reflections both during and after the experience.

The externships cover a wide range of careers and industries, including coding and game design with a start-up in Minneapolis, marketing communications for nonprofit organizations, teaching in private and public schools, curatorial work at an art museum, and shadowing consultants in business and finance. Luis Alvarez ’22 (pictured) has participated in the program for all four of his years at Carleton, most recently at the Brain Tumor Immunology Lab at UCLA where he was able to observe a number of procedures and speak to a patient participating in ongoing clinical trials.

Luis Alvarez ’22
Luis Alvarez ’22

Tori Aguado ’24 was unable to find an externship that suited their interests as a cinema and media studies major, so they reached out to a number of alumni with the same major and ended up arranging an externship with a graduate who was working on a feature-length documentary. During the two-week externship, Aguado had the opportunity to help with editing footage.

Luke Klefstad, program director for experiential learning, said, “The externship program is an excellent opportunity to learn about the power of a liberal arts degree from Carleton. Students get to benefit from the Carleton alumni network. In their reflections, a lot of students talked about how they’re going to maintain connections with their hosts. They get to experience how ready alumni are to support them in their career exploration and their futures after Carleton.”

Hamline University: J-term allows students and professors to try new projects

Until the pandemic, Hamline University’s J-term was four weeks long, but with recent schedule changes, it is now only three weeks. That means that each day of a J-term course is roughly the equivalent of one week of instruction during a regular semester. Lifeng Dong, the Emma K. and Carl R. N. Malmstrom Chair in Physics, said that intense schedule works well for project-based classes.

Dong’s class— Imaging the Invisible World— is a chance for students to spend three weeks learning about light microscopes, electron microscopes, and photomicrography. Many of students in the class are not science majors; rather they are majoring in anthropology, business administration, computational data science, digital media arts, forensic psychology, history, legal studies and other fields of study. The class gives them a chance to explore the real-world applications of the technology they are working with. By the end of the class, they will not only have taken a beautiful photomicrographic image to share with their friends and parents, they will have a story to tell about why their image is meaningful.

For Dong, the class is far more than teaching students how to use an instrument that can aid in everything from studying nature to working on semiconductors. One of the questions he’s asked them to think about during the class is: Is seeing really believing? “Under a light microscope, you may see a sphere with a very smooth surface,” he said. “Based on that observation, you may say, ‘Okay, that is a smooth surface.’ But under a scanning electron microscope, you get much, much better resolution, and you can see that the surface is not smooth anymore. There are lots of spikes. The tool you use changes your perspective.”

Not only does the class allow students to concentrate on one subject for a few weeks; it gives professors a chance to experiment with something new. Hamline acquired its scanning electron microscope just over a year ago, and this is the first time Dong has offered this class. He surveyed his students at the beginning of the class to learn why they were taking it, and now he knows that the class has enough student interest to be offered on an on-going basis.

By Kate Norlander