Five College Courses Give Students a Chance to "Get Out of the Smith Bubble"
By Julia Colatrella '12
When high school seniors go through that stressful life process that is the college decision, the choice usually involves picking one school. But at Smith, after we have said "yes" to one college, four more open their doors to us.
Taking courses at five colleges is an opportunity most college undergraduates don't get, and Smithies are thankful for it. Though our college has a lot to offer (that's why we pick Smith, after all), students are finding great opportunities in the more than 5,000 courses offered through the Five College Consortium—Amherst, Smith, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke colleges and the University of Massachusetts
Amherst (UMass). Molly Gavin '12, a linguistics major, has been to Hampshire College and UMass for language courses when she couldn't fit Smith's course offerings into her schedule, and Emily Fuller '12 is working toward a Five College certificate in Buddhist studies.
"It was great to be able to go off campus for this because, even though Smith has Buddhist studies classes, they didn't have this particular class, and the professor at Hampshire was a specialist in this subject, so it was cool to be able to go to her," Fuller says.
As far as the actual experience at other campuses goes, students seem to make the difference, perhaps even more than professors. "I think the way professors act depends on students' attitudes," comments Fuller, who says she enjoyed Hampshire’s accommodating and open-minded atmosphere. Gavin agrees, adding, "At Hampshire, there was more interdisciplinary talking, as in students referring to their other classes and interests, and at UMass, people were always willing to start up conversations with Five-College students."
Of course, when it comes to having more men as classmates, Smithies don't worry about speaking up in the classroom. "It was a nice change having guys in the class, but I don't know that it added to my experience," Gavin says with a laugh.
So what kind of student should be taking a Five College class? Certainly one with good time management skills. Take riding the fare-free bus, for example.
"In my experience, the PVTA (Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority) always messes up on the first day of class, so you're going to be late," Gavin says.
Students taking the PVTA bus enjoy the privilege of free transportation to any of the five schools, which is a convenient perk offered by the consortium, but sticking to a bus schedule means a significant time investment. "You need to schedule your day so you're at [one of the other schools] either all morning or all afternoon," Gavin reports, adding, "Except for that first day of class, the PVTA has been pretty reliable for me."
Aside from the time commitment required in taking public transit (which might also be perceived as extra time to do last-minute homework), students' opinions of Five College courses seem to be positive. "It's so refreshing to get out of the Smith bubble," says Fuller, "And it makes you appreciate being at Smith more when you get back." Gavin has similar sentiments, adding, "I do prefer Smith's courses, but I value the varying experiences from different schools and I wouldn't want to take only Smith classes. Ideally, I would take a Five College course once a year, if not once a semester. I love the chance to get off campus regularly."
"Smith College has a small campus," Gavin adds, but the Five College system can make students feel like it's much larger.
For those students who don't have the time to get off campus, the Five College system works the other way as well, bringing students from the other colleges into Smith classrooms. In fact, Smith typically enjoys the largest enrollment of consortium students representing the other four campuses.
"The Five College students in my classes always speak up [and contribute] something in class," says Shuyao Kong '13. Grace Anderson '12 adds that Hampshire students in her biology classes contribute different perspectives from those of Smith students.
Of course, it's not just students who travel between schools. The Five College faculty exchange professors from the other colleges who have specific expertise can teach a course at Smith, and the integrated library system allows books to go back and forth between schools as well (which has helped many students grab hold of multiple sources for that huge end-of-term paper).
So while Smithies warn that Five College classes are "not for those who get impatient with buses and have time-management issues," as Molly Gavin says, it's clear that the social opportunities and different perspectives make it worthwhile for the adventurous student.