December 17, 2002
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.-It's not very often that college course offerings include such selections as "Traditional Nepalese Cooking," "Make Anything Out of Tape," or "Bridge for Beginners"; or that the classes meet in a dressing room, a mechanic's shop, or at Lincoln Center; or that students and teachers swap places to share unusual skills and interests. But during Smith's January Interterm, the focus is on stress-free opportunities to plunge into new subjects in unconventional settings.
When some 500 students return to campus on Jan. 6, they'll be able to spend three weeks sampling from among 59 free, non-credit and non-traditional courses taught by students, faculty, staff and local residents.
Course offerings vary widely from year to year as community members with diverse interests step into the role of teacher. New this year is "Schmoozing 101," offered by Nancy Harvin and Merrilyn Lewis of the college's advancement department. Harvin and Lewis are pooling their knowledge of public and private etiquette to help students navigate social situations with ease and grace. Sophomore Lisa McIntire, who helped found Smith's nascent Latino/Hip-Hop group "Sabor Caliente," will be teaching rhythm-challenged students how to "Shake Yo Booty." And Technology Support Consultant Marsha Leavitt will share her three years of work in basket weaving in "The Art of Basketry."
"We emphasize courses that allow students to pick up practical and fun new skills in a fairly informal setting," explains Susan Briggs, who coordinates the Interterm program through the Office of the Dean of the College.
"Interterm also allows instructors to share their unique hobbies and talents with eager students."
Some courses, which can last for just a few hours or for two or three weeks, have a somewhat more academic bent. Dick Briggs and Judith Wopereis of the biology department will offer a non-credit laboratory class on electron microscopy; Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative, an independent center for prison research, will teach a course called "The Prison Industrial Complex Through Film.
"Classes like these," Briggs notes, "allow students to focus on academic interests that don't always get attention in the classroom."
Some classes are perennial favorites. By far the most popular Interterm course at Smith is "Basic Auto Mechanics," taught in the college's auto repair bay by David Cleveland and Dave Motyka, fleet mechanics for Smith's motor pool. As is the case every year, each of the three sections filled up on the first day of Interterm registration.
"Interterm is a nice change from constantly being stressed out by schoolwork," says junior Laura Frye-Levine, a member of the Interterm planning committee and a veteran instructor, whose class "Make Anything Out of Tape" triggers the annual appearance of duct-tape bags and purses sported by students and staff alike.
The college also offers a series of field trips, including, this year, low-cost tickets to Mel Brooks' Broadway smash "The Producers." Different faculty members also introduce public screenings of films of their choosing each night of Interterm, which gives students the chance to save on movie tickets and hear a little more about their professors' personal passions.
So while some Smith students may choose to spend their breaks taking a well-earned rest, others will be hard at work on homework assignments. Fortunately, they won't be penalized if they don't complete their knitted socks on time.