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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    A New Look on the Summer/Winter Session Courses

    Many incoming freshman are encouraged to utilize their first year by exploring a variety of fields in the hopes of gaining a broader perspective on the world. Theoretically speaking, there is nothing wrong with such advice, its liberating and it sounds fun. However, the real world college experience is a demanding system that forces everyone to focus on ‘finishing a degree in four years,’ rather than ‘hanging around exploring interests.’ In the process of racing toward a degree, could this fast-pace expectation sometimes compromise the quality or distort the purpose of our education? If you are a currently enrolled student and had ever packed your summer or winter vacations with a maximum class schedule or had friends who did so, you would understand the doubts we are having here.

    The main incentive for creating summer/winter Sessions was due to the great demand from students who wanted to obtain their degree on time. According to Dr. Richard J. Gatteau, director of the academic & pre-professional advising center, ‘Other colleges and universities were offering successful winter sessions, so Stony Brook’s winter/summer session was an opportunity to provide general education and major classes for our own, as well as visiting students.’

    For the winter session, Stony Brook promises six credits in three weeks. Although this option is embraced by many a harried student, others question whether summer and winter classes actually reach the goal of not only getting the information to the students, but also giving them enough time to digest and absorb the knowledge. Can a class that normally takes three and half months to finish be taught in as short as three weeks and still maintain its standards?

    Also, despite that summer/winter Sessions are generally considered to be optional ‘off’ semesters, nevertheless, when circumstances call for them, they became a necessary alternative to alleviate the over-crowding of the most requested courses. The department of Chemistry, for example, is suffering particularly hard from a staff shortage and the disproportionate growth in the number of students taking classes such as general chemistry and organic chemistry.

    With the school experiencing a steady growth of enrollment every year, the increased number of students did not bring about an equal amount of pressure for all the departments. Overall, there are more students declaring majors in chemistry, biology and all the popular pre-med disciplines which all require the above chemistry courses. The supply of chemistry professors is simply not meeting the exploding demand.

    Professor and chairman of the Chemistry department Benjamin Hsiao and Professor Andreas Mayr, both stated concerns based on their reason of utilizing summer/winter Sessions.

    According to the Chemistry department, ‘we realize that the school is aware of the problems and they are certainly making efforts toward solving them’hellip;but everything gets stretched in the department, staff, equipments, and class space for lecture and lab. We do not offer the lecture portion of classes during the summer/winter sessions because it requires time for those materials to get comprehended and retained in students’hellip;but lab sessions are definitely suitable to be taught intensively. However, the winter sessions have proven to be especially a challenge.’

    To demonstrate the situation about not being able to allocate sufficient resources for the most needed departments, Professor Hsiao used a vivid example where he asked ‘just imagine, all the students who have taken my class knew, I have five children, one girl and four boys, and if all of them are screaming at me ‘I am hungry!’ how was I suppose to know which one is the hungriest?’

    There is a cry for priority here. The sense of urgency to meet the demands from our system leaves both educators and students with few better choices.

    Whether a course will be successfully completed is highly dependent on the nature of the materials and the course type, this is the one consensus on the quality of condensed classes between the school administrators, students and professors.

    ‘The quality of the summer and winter session classes is not compromised by its shorter timeframe.’ The total contact and teaching hours are exactly the same as in a traditional semester.’ Certainly, some classes do not lend themselves to being taught in a 3- or 6-week timeframe; but others can be taught quite effectively in that concentrated period,’ Dr. Gatteau said.

    Yang Zhao, a sophomore, commented that besides feeling kind of lonely since all his friends were away during the summer, ‘I had to do a lot more work every day for the two classes I had, Business 110 and 210, because I was extra arduous, I do not think I learned less. Also, the pre-requisite requirements for summer classes were not as strictly reinforced, and I had more freedom in choosing classes.’

    When asked about why JRN 210: News II: Beat Reporting did not work out well, Professor Barbara Selvin, who had just became the first full-time professor in the School of Journalism in January 2007 and also had taught two lecture classes and internship programs during the past summer, explained ‘the nature of the course, which requires intensive practicing and familiarizing on the students’ part, was not well-suited for the shortened sessions. Practice takes time, and that was exactly what the summer session lacked. We had to cut down some of the materials, but we did more in-depth discussions on some other.’ Despite the unsatisfying tryout with some of the classes, Selvin still believes that the condensed sessions are good alternatives, ‘it really depends on which specific class we are talking about.’

    Mr.Weixin Guo, Ph.D student and instructor from the department of Mathematics also agreed, saying ‘The time span is quite appropriate for the course MAT 127: Calculus C. I think generally all the math courses fit into a summer schedule; the only difference is that the students have to be more concentrated on their work…students are better prepared compared to a regular section. For those who learn faster or work harder or have a better foundation, these sections are suitable. It is also a meaningful way for students to spend their long vacations.’

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