Many undergraduates have seen their summer internships and job opportunities evaporate as the pandemic forces businesses to close and people to stay home. But with the lessons learned in D-Term about online course delivery, and with some experience under their belts and a desire to help students fill their summer with academic opportunities, WPI faculty in nearly every departments have expanded existing courses, developed new ones, and thought creatively about how best to help students get the most out of E-Term.
As a result, online summer college course offerings at WPI this year show a wealth of new topics across a range of disciplines, including courses dealing with climate change and COVID-19, and courses to support efforts. of those looking for a job or working towards a master’s degree. E-Term enrollment has increased among continuing students, and there has been a surge in newly accepted freshmen.
There are a total of 136 undergraduate courses, with 756 unique students enrolled, totaling over 1,800 virtual places to fill, including those taking more than one course. E-Term courses (actually comprising two terms, E1 and E2) start on May 26; graduate classes began on May 18.
Dean of Undergraduate Studies Art Heinricher explains that in addition to responding to changes caused by the pandemic, an ongoing motivation behind planning E-Term has been to simply make summer part of the academic plan of each student. “There are really six quarters in the year, not just four,” he says. “Students are now using the summer to progress and enrich their academic experience, not just as a place to catch up.”
Debra Boucher, Director of Special Programs in Undergraduate Studies, led efforts to expand summer offerings and improve the student experience from enrollment to completion.
Heinricher says the summer has long been a time of experimentation and the university has offered online undergraduate courses for several years. The Department of Mathematical Sciences, in particular, has used the summer as a time to develop high-quality materials that can also be used to support lessons during the regular school year. Engineering professors who have long taught online graduate programs have used their skills to develop online versions of core undergraduate engineering science courses, he points out.
Computing offers higher level courses that have never been offered in the summer. For example, the faculty will teach advanced courses in computer graphics, data science, and computer networks, with a total enrollment of more than 140 students.
The humanities has more than doubled its offering of courses, inquiry seminars and internships, says Kathryn Moncrief, head of humanities and arts. “We have 23 courses and 14 seminars and survey courses, and half of these courses are new. The demand for them has been incredible,” she says.
New courses include Fundamentals of Music Technology; Spanish film and media: cultural issues; Literature and the environment: Literary pandemics; 3D modeling; Global Studies Topics: COVID-19 and Global Systems; Theater while respecting social distancing; and a seminar on Japanese pop culture. “Faculty quickly developed courses for D-Term to respond to the pandemic situation,” says Moncrief, which has positioned professors to provide additional E-Term opportunities for their students.
Social and Political Science Studies also offers a list of courses, including those related to the minor in Global Public Health – Fundamentals of Global Health, and a course in epidemiology, says Emily Douglas, head of the department.
“Traditionally, we offered two to four courses in the summer, but now we are preparing 12,” she says. “We are seeing great strong enrollment with interest from students at all levels. There is also more interest in health-related courses – which could be your own health and well-being (courses in mental health or mindfulness) or broader health systems (such as healthcare policy ) from micro to macro.
In addition to the usual course offerings, Chemistry and Biochemistry has added five new courses and enrollment has doubled, said department head Arne Gericke.
“What we’re seeing is a significant increase in enrollment this summer,” Gericke says, including in some classes where the department has typically seen declining enrollment, such as upper division classes attended by majors. “Last year, we had 74 registrants. Right now we have 164. Organic chemistries 1 and 2 are pretty full, which is unusual. Other new courses include molecular modeling and organometallic chemistry.
The Mathematical Sciences department will run four freshman-level calculus classes, as well as 2000-level classes that are in demand. “Many students need them for the requirements of their major and they can take these courses proactively during the summer,” explains Professor Marcel Blais. “You can really eliminate math requirements over the summer. We also run linear programming in E2. This is a fun course that has never been offered in the summer before.
Blais says college summer courses help avoid scheduling issues and help those taking BS/MS programs complete both degrees in 5 years. “We have been teaching for many years online during the summer,” he says. “Undergraduate Studies has worked with individual Mathematical Science teachers to create professional online courses. Historically, during summer terms, we have both in-person and online versions of each course. This summer, all teachers will focus on online teaching.
Heinricher views E-Term as a place to expand a student’s academic experience. “For many students, a double major or BS/MS program is difficult to manage within the standard four-term schedule per year,” he says. “Summer adds flexibility, access and opportunity.”