January a creative time for students at Hastings College - Omaha.com
Published Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:12 am
January a creative time for students at Hastings College

• Photo showcase: Hastings College J-term.

* * *

HASTINGS, Neb. — For one month each year, Hastings College students have just one class on their minds.

Which class is up to them. Some practice landscape photography in New Mexico or learn marine conservation in Honduras. Others stay on campus and examine the history of hell, take piano lessons or experiment with the science behind sound.

A dozen of the more intrepid sign up for a stint as a prairie pioneer, camping in the cold and walking nearly 30 miles pulling a Mormon hand cart in the name of art.

It's all part of the semester between fall and spring known as a January term or J-term, a concept first popularized in the 1960s at liberal arts colleges that has since dwindled in popularity.

While many colleges offer compressed courses between terms or schedule study abroad trips on breaks, the traditional J-term — offered at only two Nebraska colleges and a handful of Iowa schools — is included in tuition and intended more for exploration than catching up on credits.

At the colleges that still offer it, the J-term has become a key piece of what they hope will differentiate them from their competition and give students an intellectual edge, even if time has somewhat diluted its original mission.

“The whole idea of it at first was that we'd do something different,” said Dwayne Strasheim, dean emeritus and professor of English and linguistics at Hastings who has overseen the J-term since its inception in 1967. “It was a very vital, intellectually challenging, but at the same time, pleasurable experience.”

Students return from Christmas break a bit earlier than most of their counterparts at other institutions and get out a bit later in May. Trips abroad, classes in music or art or anything that wouldn't fit neatly in a traditional schedule are the aim. Professors often team up across disciplines.

Strasheim, who will retire this year, said he thinks necessity has pulled the J-term away somewhat from its foundation. Students can use the term to take a course they're missing or do an internship. Class offerings are a bit more tame now, Strasheim said. But the purpose remains relevant, he and the administration believe.

Support is also still strong at Midland University in Fremont, where the school has been gathering donor support to help more students go abroad for their interterms.

Taking the January classes is optional, said Steven Bullock, vice president for academic affairs, but nearly three-fourths of students are enrolled this year. Though about half of them take routine classes — it's necessary to offer those as part of their four-year graduation promise to students, Bullock said — there are still plenty of options.

“When you're taking one course, it allows you to delve deeply into something, and I think the interterm serves that purpose really well,” he said.

Doane College in Crete will drop its January term next year in favor of a traditional calendar. Instead, students will take seminars each year that count as electives but have the same spirit and build on one another each year, said John Burney, vice president for academic affairs at Doane.

“The big thing for me is the sense that there's only so much you can do in the three-week session for the creativity we wanted to happen,” Burney said.

Support for the J-term remains strong at Hastings, according to academic dean Gary Johnson.

Everyone from students to faculty to administrators have to be behind the concept for it to work, Johnson said, and they still have that mix in Hastings.

“It's not just a three-week stretch between semesters,” Johnson said. “We need to recommit every year. We are making sure every year it continues to mean what we think it should mean.”

When Hastings senior Kyle Beaman transferred from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and learned about the extra semester, he didn't get the point. But he has taken classes on radio broadcasting and glass-blowing.

This month, Beaman took part in the adventure art class: pioneer-style camping at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island and a two-day walk back to Hastings. The art comes in when the students and professor turn their pictures and videos from the experience into a documentary-style video.

“This walk, that's something that I would never do,” Beaman said. “It's the kind of opportunity to find out for real who you are.”

He and seven other students spent three days living the authentic and frigid prairie life by camping without modern amenities, building fires and using Dutch ovens to make their own food. They slept in a cabin with a small space heater but largely warmed by a wood stove. They wore period clothes they sewed themselves.

The adventure followed two weeks spent carefully planning every detail of the trip and its documentation, from who would shoot video to whether to bring their own live chickens for food (vetoed) or use modern toilets (approved).

The adventure art class is the precise example offered by assistant professor of art Steve Snell when he was asked during his job interview what his dream class would be. Because of the J-term, he was teaching it his first year.

“This is a class that they probably will never want to do again but won't regret,” Snell said. “It may be one of the most difficult things they ever do, but that's what makes it rewarding.”

After the trip, the students planned a party on campus. But the reality of the trip set in, and after several days of roughing it and nearly 30 miles walking over two days, Beaman said he and his classmates basically just collapsed.

Some parts were awesome, he said, and others were brutal.

Would he ever do it again? Beaman laughed.

He'd have to think about that. Probably not, he decided, but he's glad he did it once.

Contact the writer: Kate Howard Perry

kate.perry@owh.com    |   402-444-3185    |  

Kate writes about Nebraska's community colleges, state colleges and university system.

Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »