JanPlan: not always a time for relaxation
Audrey Gourlie '12, left, and Lauren Harris '12 slept in the quinzee they constructed in Winter Ecology in 2010.
Colby’s January term has been an integral part of students’ experiences on the Hill since 1961, when then President of the College Robert Strider first instituted the program as an opportunity for in-depth independent studies and a stimulating break from the routine schedule of a regular semester.
For many students on campus during the College’s JanPlan, it means taking an unusual or more laid-back class, having time to relax and making the most of the Maine outdoors. Some students, however, choose to engage in one of a variety of more hands-on, service-based classes that make for a tight schedule and a very different JanPlan experience on the Hill.
Professors make students aware of the intense time commitment before they enroll in service-based classes such as Chemistry Outreach K-8, Practicum for Education or more practical classes such as Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Training and Neuroscience Research.
“We are basically asking them to commit to the class Monday through Friday, all day,” Dr. Gerald and Myra Dorros Professor of Chemistry Julie Millard, who teaches the Chemistry Outreach class, said. The class is based around science outreach activities in local schools and involves off-campus travel, so “both the students and the instructors need to be very flexible” and must be ready to work around “local school schedules, after-care programs, Girl Scout meetings and weather cancellations, etc.,” Millard said.
The six students enrolled in this year’s Neuroscience Research class will be spending “all day in the lab, and often well into the night and on weekends if necessary,” Andrea Tilden, J. Warren Merrill associate professor of biology, said. Students also spend part of the month at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) and “have to work long hours at high intensity” to make the most of this “rare opportunity,” Tilden said.
Although she describes the course as all-consuming, the feedback that Tilden has received from past students has been overwhelmingly positive. “We do manage to build in a lot of fun as well, playing games around the fireplace at the MDIBL Co-op very late at night or building ‘snow crabs’ after a big storm; the experience has a certain camp-like quality,” Tilden said.
For many students, it is the “camp-like quality” of a class that focuses on a common project that makes these time-intensive classes so rewarding. The commitment students bring to the class creates a focused and stimulated learning environment that allows them to explore their fields of interest in a more hands-on way than they would be able to do during a regular semester.
“It’s similar to an internship,” Brittany Colford ’13 said of her experience taking Neuroscience Research. “I think it’s actually a much more worthwhile experience than an ‘easy’ JanPlan because you can really develop skills in your field of study rather than just learn about it in a lecture for a few hours a week.”
Megan Crocker ’12 remembers her Chemistry Outreach class as “much more involved” than the typical JanPlan class. “With this class, it was pretty much an all-day, everyday thing,” she said. At the time, she wanted to become a chemistry teacher, and the class was a perfect opportunity for her to gain experience in teaching as well as enjoy unlimited access to the laboratory. “It was a really fulfilling experience. I can look back on it and say that I actually accomplished something during my JanPlan instead of just lounging around and taking it easy. Of course, one of the disadvantages was that I couldn’t just lounge around and take it easy!” she said.
But that’s not to say that taking a class with a large time commitment is pure drudgery. “I really wanted to be able to take classes that were exciting and fun,” Ben Hannon ’13, who took EMT Training last year, said. “Being time-intensive doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be fun to me, and the class sounded more exciting than many of the other offerings.”
Students enrolled in the EMT class meet five days a week for six to eight hours and “do some clinical time in the ER as well,” Medical Director Paul Berkner, who organizes the class at Colby, said. Hannon found that there was still time for a social life outside the classroom too. “I often would go hang out with friends and bring my textbook with me to go over material from class,” he said. “And I still played on a broomball team and went skiing every weekend.”
“Overall,” Crocker said, “one class for a month still leaves quite a bit of time for you to do the things you want.” Despite a heavy workload, students committing to a tighter JanPlan schedule still find the time to unwind and relax after class as they would during a regular semester. And because the workload relates to a one-of-a-kind opportunity in fields in which they are particularly interested, students find their work more enjoyable.
Lauren Harris ’12 took a Winter Ecology class her sophomore year, in which she learned how to snowshoe and slept outdoors in a quinzee (a type of igloo), that she and her partner built themselves. “Sleeping outside in Maine in the middle of January is something I will certainly never forget,” she said.
Harris, who is now enrolled in Chemistry Outreach for this upcoming JanPlan, enjoys the extra dedication she puts forth during the month-long term. “I know that as much as I enjoy having plenty of time to relax during JanPlan, I need to have somewhat of a routine to keep everything in my life going smoothly. I’m willing to have my class take up a lot of time since I think it will be time well spent.”
“I think that taking a time-consuming class during JanPlan keeps you focused and in an academic mindset,” Dan Sunderland ’14, who became a certified EMT last JanPlan and is taking Neuroscience Research this year, agreed. “While I’m sure we would all enjoy a month-long vacation, I think that continuing to work academically for more than a few hours a week makes the transition to the second semester a little easier,” he added.
Overall, students find that the advantage of gaining one-of-a-kind, hands-on experience and dedicating their time to a subject of interest far outweighs the disadvantage of having a less laid-back JanPlan experience.
“Trust me, I always thought it would be nice to take a class that wasn’t so time consuming, but for some reason the classes I was the most interested in were very time-intensive,” Kimiko Kossler ’12, who is enrolled in Chemistry Outreach, said.
Arvia Sutandi ’13 agreed: “Neuroscience research is a field I’m very interested in, so even if that means sacrificing some How I Met Your Mother, sleeping and relaxing time, I think it’s completely worth it. Plus, that’s what we’re here at Colby for, right? To pursue an education.”