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Making the most of a month

By Bradley West '13
January 31, 2013

Every January a number of St. Olaf College students study abroad in far-flung places like Costa Rica, Morocco, and France. But that doesn't mean the Oles who are still on campus spend the month clicking through Facebook photos from their friends' programs in Italy or the Caribbean, wishing that they were traveling too.

Associate Professor of Art/Art Hisotry Irve Dell teaches Creating Visual Spectacle.

Instead, students choose from a variety of interesting, engaging, and sometimes even quirky classes, allowing them to intern at local nonprofit organizations or explore the connection between Nordic crime fiction and contemporary Scandinavian culture, for example.

Interim, also know as J-term, is the month between first and second semesters, during which Oles take only one class and delve deeply into their chosen subject matter. Some students see interim as a chance to focus intensely on a particularly tricky course, like Organometallic Chemistry or Linear Algebra.

But many Oles choose instead to explore fascinating and fun subjects that fall outside of their normal course of study. Professors make it easy for students to explore these new subjects by offering a variety of unique courses that aren't available during the regular semesters.

For example, the English Department offers Monsters, Myths, and Movies, which looks at the evolution of mythical monsters from the 19th to the 21st century and poses the question, "What do monsters tell us about ourselves?"

Students interested in the fine arts, meanwhile, can take Creating Visual Spectacle, which calls for collaboration across disciplines and played a large role in the recent Alice Project. Select theater majors have spent the month creating and preparing for the February production of Poe Pieces, an original show based on the life and writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Even political science students have had the chance to express their creativity in Media and Politics by making their own 30 or 60 second political television ads.

Other on-campus Oles use interim as an opportunity to get more involved in and around Northfield. Those taking Community Applications of Psychology draw connections between the psychological theories they learn in class and the on-site work they do as interns at local non-profit organizations. The Social Work Department offers a course called I Want to Help People, in which first-year students learn about vocational opportunities in the various sectors of social work by visiting nearby hospitals, prisons, and shelters.

Of course, if you're still not convinced that any of these classes are worth weathering January in Minnesota, there's always Art 106: Drawing from Nature in the Bahamas.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or