Saint Mary’s ‘Jan Term’: rigorous, creative courses
By Lou Fancher
They’re doing it again. Students and professors at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga are engaged in Jan Term, a four-week, crash-your-barriers-and-experience-something-new academic session.
Operating like an expanded intermission between semesters, campus-based and travel courses have undergraduate students diving into single topics and spreading their mental wings into new territory or literally fanning across the globe.
“This year, we have been able to give travel scholarships to all senior students who have not traveled abroad before,” says program director and professor of art history Anna Novakov, noting a major milestone.
An elected committee of ranked faculty members evaluate the proposed courses based on their academic rigor and creative approach.
This year, on-campus courses include What is a Good Life?; News Satire: Understanding and Making Comedy News; Robots for Rehabilitation; Trash!; Love, Money and Avoiding Nuclear War: The Art and Science of Negotiations; and more.
But there’s also standard selections like Accelerated Elementary Italian or Calculus with Elementary Functions I.
Novakov says the language and math courses support individual departmental requirements. Comprehensiveness at high speed is their innovative feature.
Travel courses include both new and repeated options, due to the nature of international contacts that take time and consistency to develop. Professors Shawny Anderson and Jesse Wheeler conduct the popular SMC DIRT class that this year is participating in humanitarian, ecological and artistic projects in the Brazilian Amazon.
Similarly, a new course exploring the interconnections of nature and culture in Bali, Indonesia, challenges students to learn while enduring uncomfortable physical conditions — not the least of which, for a digital generation, is limited internet access.
“WiFi is spotty,” writes business marketing student Donald Foster Gutridge IV, 21, in an email. Even so, he manages to send photos of Balinese dancers, temples, selfies with other students, and the rice fields that he’s found most compelling.
“They yield a high amount of rice while conserving water, without pesticides and using little fossil fuels,” he says. By alternating fields, pest levels are controlled. The use of mostly oxen- or human-driven plows keeps inorganic waste to a minimum.
Bali’s high humidity is a mixed bag.
“It can be annoying because you always feel dirty and sweaty, but at the same time, it helps my asthma,” says Gutridge.
Communicating with villagers is aided by his “Spanish and a little Indonesian with a Balinese dialect,” but more so by the residents’ friendliness. “Whether they (are) in the street or hosts at villas, everyone is very welcoming and kind.”
Of course, even communication between people who share a common language isn’t always easy. Anyone who’s interviewed for a job, bargained with parents for car keys or a later curfew, or been in a romantic relationship discovers that diplomacy matters.
Visiting professor Dr. David C. McGaffey, director of Berkeley-based Global Stewards Institute, a nonprofit that specializes in conflict resolution and strategic collaborative programs in academic, business and community settings, has taught the all-applications negotiation course more than 100 times.
“I developed the core of my course, ‘Love, Money and Avoiding Nuclear War,’ in 1979 when I was part of the Harvard Negotiation Project. I further developed it at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, where it is still being taught.”
McGaffey says the single most important insight he hopes students will take away is that “every courtship is a negotiation; every negotiation is a courtship.”
People, especially Americans, fail to distinguish between bargaining and negotiations, according to McGaffey.
A good negotiator discovers the other person’s real needs; asks questions and listens to answers; and finds solutions that satisfy everyone’s needs and some of the wants.
“If you remain true to those three things,” he says, “your chances of success in love, life and dealing with problems will be greatly increased.”
In the recent presidential campaign, McGaffey believes the primary communication flaws and discord were caused by people more interested in talking and giving preformed answers than in asking questions and listening.
Nathan Criswell, a 21-year-old marketing student in his junior year, is enrolled in McGaffey’s class. He expects improved negotiation skills will help him in personally and career-related relationships.
Thinking on a broader scale, he says, “Imagine how many mistakes have been made regarding foreign policy. If everyone knew proper negotiation techniques these problems could be fixed before resulting in violence.”