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Interim 2016: from Farmhouse to Classroom to the Galapagos Islands

Jake Hanzalik ’16 reads on a cliff overlooking Segovia, Spain on a 2014 study abroad trip. (Photo courtesy of Jake Hanzalik ’16)

It was 2 a.m. in the dead Minnesota winter. A student awoke— with the dire need to use the bathroom. It may have been 1981, but Bethel students in Professor of History Roy “Doc” Dalton’s “Depression House” were taking it back to the 1930s, where there wasn’t running water or even electricity. Their course, called simply “Depression House,” was appropriately named.

For the entirety of the course, students spent their January term living in a farmhouse 12 miles from Pillager, Minnesota. Two hours from Bethel, the house had an old-fashioned kitchen with a wood stove. In efforts to bring the deprivation of the ’30s alive for students, professor Dalton—chair of the history department at the time—had students hand-wash their clothing, eat beans for the majority of their meals, and at times go a week without washing their hair.

The original philosophy of the January term, “J-term” or interim, was to provide students with experimental opportunities outside their majors. Interim was meant to better round out students’ experiences within their liberal arts education. Classes like Depression House did just that.

J-term still provides fulfilling study abroad options and allows students with tightly-scheduled majors, such as nursing, to go abroad without putting their graduation dates in jeopardy. Many students even have the opportunity to graduate early, thanks to interim.

“It was the perfect amount of time to be off campus,” says political science major Ian Engstrom ’16. “I love being at Bethel, so I didn’t want to miss out on hanging with friends here. But I still wanted to go abroad, so interim was the perfect amount of time.”

However, in the past 20 years, Bethel has received some pressure from undergraduates to also offer interim classes that students need in order to graduate. Experiential and avant-garde courses—that broaden and foster interest in diverse areas—have been augmented by general education classes.

Today’s interim reflects a shift in thinking for many college students, who have their long-term vocation in the front of their minds. “People have a harder time doing things as elective — I’m going to do this for the heck of it. I think the idea was that January was originally a place to do that. Just to take something different and fun, and not necessarily worry about how it counted…just an elective,” says Dean of Arts and Humanities Barrett Fisher. “But now I think you see it being very much general-education orientated and department-requirement orientated.”

As opposed to 1981, where students were literally reliving history for fun, many current students choose to take required courses instead of exploratory ones over interim. Professor of Psychology Kathy Nevins has been teaching at Bethel since 1984, and she has observed the evolution of interim over the past 30 years. “I want students to have experiences that will stretch them. Not break them, but stretch them,” says Nevins. “I think college should be transformable, not just reinforcing the status quo.”

Bethel requires undergraduate students to enroll in three interim terms during a typical four-year undergraduate experience. Interim 2016 offerings include nine international study opportunities, as well as on-campus options in major fields of study and general education, such as:.

  • Interaction with Urban Life and Systems introduces the diversity of urban life, models of urban ministry, and includes interaction with a cultural group that lies outside the majority culture(s) in North America.
  • Photo Manipulation explores methods and skills of photographic manipulation for contemporary art using the camera, scanners, Photoshop, and printing techniques.
  • Individual Tax Preparation studies taxation through the eyes of the poor, elderly, and immigrant populations. It includes a service-learning component where students assist local residents in filing tax returns.
  • Advanced Human Gross Anatomy provides upperclassmen biology students the opportunity to experience human dissection study, in Bethel’s cadaver lab.
  • HIV/AIDS: Anatomy of a Pandemic looks at the impact of the discovery of the immunodeficiency virus.
  • Muslim Women in History is a global survey of the lives of Muslim women from the 7th century to the present.
  • Revolution and Political Development examines theories of modernization and the U.S. effort to promote democracy internationally.
  • Behavioral Robotics uses robotics within the context of developing practical and theoretical understanding of behavior.

In addition to specific courses only offered during interim, the month term provides special opportunities for the visual and theatre arts students. A competitive, faculty-juried series of three galleries gives art students a real-world experience in proposing their own work for a gallery show. Every other interim, theatre and non-theatre students dive into the musical theatre experience, preparing for a large-scale production performed in Benson Great Hall.    

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