Here it goes, here it goes, here it goes again

As I write this, my computer screen displays this word document as well as one ginormous spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is not just any ordinary numbers-y (clearly I have been thoroughly trained in the secret arts of Excel) spreadsheet. This spreadsheet spans columns and columns and exists for one reason: to coordinate interviews for over 100 ExCollege applicants.

The ExCollege offers interviews to a good portion of potential instructors. The interviews serve as our method of getting into their heads, to sneak around a little bit and to understand how the paper version of the course will translate into real life. Subcommittees consisting of two current students and one faculty member interview all of the applicants. Each subcommittee usually meets for 2 to 3 hours and interviews 4 to 6 applicants. With the 100 or so applicants called in for an interview, it means that I get the oh so exciting task of piecing together the schedules of about 20 faculty members, 45 students, and 100 applicants into approximately 21 neat and tidy subcommittees.

When I first got this job, Melissa Burke (last year’s Program Assistant) fully warned me that this was a task that many would balk at. She showed me her spreadsheet, and my senior self giggled a little and thought “eh, not too bad.” My senior self was so so wrong.

Cindy Stewart (the ExCollege’s Assistant Director and secret wizard) told me that the subcommittee puzzle equated to one massive GRE puzzle. (She is absolutely 100% correct, and I’m glad that I am getting some GRE practice…because I have yet to open my GRE practice book, oops.) To solve this puzzle, I need a few things:

  1. Coffee (personal favorite: a Voldemort from the Res)
  2. A mountain of paper clips (to clip together the hard copies of everyone’s schedules into subcommittees)
  3. The correct brain mode (an awake brain = a productive brain)

When all of these things align, I begin madly scheduling for a few days. After the spreadsheet comes together, I sigh, take a victory lap, and call all of the applicants. Yes. I do call each and every applicant to let them know about their pending interview. Despite this taking a few hours, I love this part of subcommittee scheduling because people get excited!! Really truly excited! I feel like I’m magic and just raining down happiness on the people I call—it’s a pretty good feeling after the end of a very long process.

The Proposal: A Process of Idea Babies, I Do’s and Engagement

Written by Nick Golden, Marcy Regalado, and Beky Stiles

Every semester, a new list of Experimental College courses appears on our website. This magical listing jumps across disciplines and contains unique courses like “A History of Pir‘arrrgh’cy” (I’m sorry…I couldn’t resist…). Each hand-crafted class goes through an intensive series of steps (I would say the academic equivalent to the Tough Mudder) to make it from proposal to classroom. The competition for a spot at the ExCollege begins with approximately 150 applicants, and it is the difficult duty of the Board to whittle that number down to 22.

The Idea

From scribbling down a thought in the middle of the night to being inspired by a project at work, ideas for courses pop up in very interesting ways. Professionals propose topics based on techniques and strategies used in the work place, grad students share ideas embedded within personal experience and their research, and current educators piece together dynamic courses related to contemporary issues. The ExCollege wants to hear from passionate and knowledgeable people; people who want to share their lives, knowledge, and ideas with Tufts students.

Manic Writing

The idea wiggling around in an applicant’s mind manifests itself onto paper and slowly transforms into an elaborate 13-week course syllabus. Applicants research reading ideas, brainstorm class discussions, and carefully craft writing assignments. Even after the creation of the syllabus, applicants must answer 9 other questions posed on the application regarding their background and the creation of the course. (I can only imagine the amounts of caffeine necessary to finish this proposal!)


After completing the proposal, many happy applicants jump around excitedly while simultaneously hugging housemates and partners (this would be my chosen method of displaying post-proposal adrenaline-fueled excitement). The finalized proposal then finds itself sitting comfortably in an envelope destined for 95 Talbot Avenue. A few brave souls even follow their feet to Tufts to hand deliver their proposal to our front desk. (Note to self: invest in some ‘I submitted my ExCollege proposal!!’ stickers for future semesters.)

Bins & Processing!

New proposals get handed over to a student worker at our secret back desk. After skimming through the proposal to check out the syllabus, the student plunks the proposal in a bin to get copied, filed, scanned, and entered into our database.

Faculty Reviews

Robyn Gittleman (our Director) reads through each proposal and pieces together which proposals get sent to which faculty members. The newly scanned PDF versions of proposals electronically zip over to approximately 115 faculty members all across the Hill. After clicking on the PDF attachment and reading through the proposal, faculty members provide input on the depth, challenge, and clarity of the syllabus in addition to any overlap with existing Tufts classes.

Subcommittees, Subcommittees, and Even More Subcommittees

Subcommittees represent one of the most important steps in the course selection process. Subcommittees comprised of one faculty member and two students interview each candidate. The schedules of over 40 super busy Tufts students, 20 faculty members, and 150 applicants must be coordinated into 20 neat and tidy subcommittees. Beky Stiles (me! the Program Assistant) drinks enormous amounts of coffee during this task.

The subcommittee members ask applicants about the proposal, its creation, their background, and the purpose of the course. Subcommittees allow the ExCollege to receive crucial feedback as to how a proposal would translate into the classroom environment.


The ExCollege Board (made up of 5 students, 5 faculty, and the ExCollege staff) holes up in the conference room for an all-day meeting to determine what courses will make it to the coveted ‘Upcoming Courses’ list on the ExCollege website. The Board spends hours drinking caffeine, voting, and (most importantly) discussing the proposals. At the end of the day, the Board hand picks 22 strong courses that exemplify the ExCollege’s commitment to providing Tufts with innovative classes meant to expand upon the existing undergraduate curriculum.

The Class

Tufts students scurry to register for their top ExCollege choices at 9am on the first day of classes. Classes fill up quickly, and a former idea nudging at the back of someone’s mind finally becomes a reality.

Take a Class!

Now you should check out the 23 classes that made it through this process! Our list of upcoming courses is on our website for Spring 2013! Make your list of ExCollege class to take, and register at 9am on Wednesday, January 16.


The Express! News & updates from the ExCollege.

Friday, November 30

Teach First Year Students!

Going away this spring but want to teach a Perspectives or Explorations first year student seminar next fall? You can access the application online from anywhere! Co-teach a course to gain valuable teaching experience, engage a room of first years each week, and get credit! Check out the FAQs for both Explorations and Perspectives, and email us at, call us at 617-627-3384, or even drop by our 95 Talbot Ave. office with any questions.

Spring Courses & Registration Begin January 16

The pile of course proposals on our desks slowly grows smaller and smaller as we work toward selecting spring classes! On December 11, the ExCollege Board will come together for a daylong meeting to finalize the course offerings for Spring 2013. Be on the lookout for the preliminary list of courses on our website! Updates regarding spring classes will be announced on Facebook, Twitter, and TuftsLife no later than Friday, December 14.

Once you’ve perused the latest ExCollege listings, be prepared to register on the first day of spring semester classes! ExCollege registration will begin promptly at 9am on Wednesday, January 16, and all Wednesday ExCollege classes will hold their first meetings on January 16.

Let the Games Begin!

With the end of the semester approaching, it’s time for extended stays in Tisch, a slight boost in caffeine consumption, and Perspectives Olympics. For the first time ever, five of the Perspectives freshmen seminars will come together in the Terrace Room for the Olympics. Competitors will race around campus on a scavenger hunt, play a few rousing rounds of Scene It, and showcase their skills during a talent show. The winning class will receive eternal bragging rights as the first ever champion of the Games. The winners will be announced in next week’s eXpress as well as on Facebook and Twitter!

TUTV’s latest hit

Earlier this week, TUTV released their latest scripted show. Only four days after its YouTube debut, the pilot of “My Gay Roommate” already has an impressive 24,000 views. The show features two new freshmen college roommates, and it portrays a light-hearted take on the relationship between a very straight and very flamboyantly gay pair. The show highlights some ridiculous situations encountered in their everyday lives and also tackles more heartfelt issues along the way. TUTV’s roots stem back to the ExCollege, and the organization is entirely student run! Check out the pilot episode and join the Facebook group!

In the Classroom

Rebecca Pearl-Martinez, co-instructor of the course Riding Tide: Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation, recently finished working as lead author on “The Art of Implementation: Gender Strategies Transforming Climate Change Decision Making.” The publication is available here and is based on Rebecca’s work with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on national climate change strategies in developing countries. Rebecca’s work will be launched at the global climate change negotiations being held in Doha this week!

Tom Nolan, instructor of Forensic Behavioral Analysis, was interviewed by Team 5 Investigates on October 26 to provide insight as both a professor of criminal justice and a former Boston police lieutenant into hazing allegations made toward the MBTA Transit Police Academy. Read the full article and watch the video on

Did You Know…

In 1988, Perspectives joined Explorations as a first year advising program in the ExCollege. This fall, there are six Perspectives classes—all grounded in the study of movies as culture—for freshmen students including Disney Animated Movies and Films of Genocide.

Around Campus

Only a few weeks stand between you and winter break. Don’t spend your last days on the Hill locked in Tisch! Be sure to work in some fun times at events being held all over campus. Procrastinate a little by working your way through TuftsLife and Tufts Events for full event listings, and keep reading for two upcoming event descriptions.

  • Get in the groove by heading over to the Tufts Choruses Holiday Concert!

Head over to Goddard for the Tufts Choruses Holiday Concert. Listen to your favorite holiday melodies sung by the Tufts Concert Choir and Chamber Singers under the direction of Jamie Kirsch. Mark your calendars for 4:30pm on Wednesday, December 5, and check out the Music Department’s events calendar for more details. Can’t go because of studying? No problem! Live stream the entire concert via the Music Department.

  • Want the full scoop on the relationship between agricultural policies and the environmental impacts of farms? Head over to the December TIE Talk!

The Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE) will feature Tim Griffin, Associate Professor and Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environmental Program of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, speaking on the correlations between nation-wide policies and the environmental impacts of farms. Don’t miss “Cash Cow? How Agricultural Policies Affects Farms’ Environmental Impact” on Wednesday, December 5, from 5pm – 6:30pm in the Miller Hall Event Space (next to the door to TIE at the former RezQuad Café)!

They Grow Up So Fast!

This summer we’ve caught up with some ExCollege office “alums” — folks who worked at the ExCollege during or after their time at Tufts — and they are doing all sorts of crazy things like getting new jobs, getting engaged and married, and even having babies! Yikes! Kate Drizos was a student worker in our office and helped to coordinate orientation for several years. She just got engaged to David Cavell, another Tufts alum. Kezia (Duchatellier) Sylvia was a Program Assistant for the ExCollege the year after she graduated, and she just had a baby boy with her husband, Brett Sylvia, another Tufts alum. Rumor has it that Ali Mehlsak, another former student worker, board member, and Program Assistant, is traveling cross-country as I write. And Melissa Burke, Program Assistant just this past year, is now working for Tufts Advancement as a Special Events Assistant. How were you a part of the ExCollege, and what are you up to now?

The Best Part of the Job

Every now and then, my friends ask me what I “do” at work at the ExCollege. As usual, it’s much easier to tell a short half-truth than to explain the whole story. So, I usually say something like, “I enter course proposal information into a database.” That sounds pretty dull, but of course, that’s not the whole story. Proposal processing is definitely the biggest part of being an ExCollege office assistant, but it’s far less dull than I have the ability to make it seem. Sure, it’s tedious typing up countless names and addresses and phone numbers, but all of that stuff gets me to the good part: the proposal itself. Every proposal is full of ideas from some extremely smart and creative thinkers. Summarizing all of those ideas into our database can be fascinating. It’s like learning a little bit about every ExCollege class offered each Continue reading

The ExCollege: A Freshmen Perspective

Becoming a freshman at Tufts is an experience like no other. Your script for the first few days consists of three questions and then three answers: 1. What’s your name? 2. Where are you from? and 3. What dorm you are living in? Then you would move on to meeting the next person. This is the taste of Tufts during orientation week. If anyone is interesting enough you continue the dialogue; if not, on to the next person! Then you worry about who your roommate really is and whether or not you’ll be surviving the chaos once the rest of the university steps foot on the hill. I was lucky enough to have chosen the Perspectives advising option, and had two upperclassmen as my professors in a class offered by the ExCollege. Continue reading

ExCollege Social Media!

The ExCollege is now increasing it’s social media presence at Tufts!  With our newly revamped blog, Facebook page and new Twitter account we’re hoping to help provide you with an inside look at how everything works here at 95 Talbot Ave!  Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @ExCollege.  We’ll be having different members of the ExCollege community blogging about the various happenings and events going on here and we look forward to hearing from all of you!

Ramping up for fall

Though I haven’t posted much this summer, we’ve actually been rather busy in behind-the-scenes work on fall courses, orientation, first-year seminars, and even a possible fall event or two. The ExCollege also welcomes our new Program Assistant, Melissa Burke, who starts work next week. Look for some posts from her soon!

Melissa Burke, Program Assistant, 2011-2012

Melissa Burke, Program Assistant, 2011-2012


Changes to the ExCollege staff, changes to our course listing, changes in the weather…we’re just full of changes over here. First, our Program Assistant for the last two years, Alison Mehlsak, finished up her time with us this past Friday. We’ll miss her a great deal, but we’re excited to announce the new Program Assistant, starting in mid-August, is Melissa Burke! She has big sneakers and Frye boots to fill, but I’m sure she’ll fit right in.

Next, we have a few changes to the course listing we’ve posted. The changes will be up on our website soon, but for now you are the first to know…the course on Nazi war criminals won’t be happening, but instead we’ll be offering a course on gender in conflict and peace-building. Watch the list in the next few weeks for course descriptions and instructor bios.

Back from Houston!

A post from Ali Mehlsak:

So a few weeks ago Cindy mentioned that I was headed to Rice University in Houston for a conference. I promised a blog entry, and finally, here it is!

What to say first about my trip…Well, I left a clear, crisp forty-degree Boston morning for the muggy eighty-degree afternoon of Texas. In retrospect, not too shabby. (But like any New England native I do prefer my heat without the humidity.) I was in the good company of other non-Texans though, so we all managed together. There were representatives at the conference from Brown, James Madison, Pitt, UCLA, Berkely and Oberlin. We were all there to discuss our student-taught course programs, and though my trip was short (just 36 hours!) it was fabulous to trade ideas and lessons with the other schools. (Here at the ExCollege, our student-taught programs include Explorations, Perspectives and Peer Teaching.)

Of the many things I discovered at Rice, one of the most interesting was the fact that the ExCollege is unique in allowing our students to grade their own full-credit courses without faculty or administrative input. Not only do we truly trust our students with the responsibility of teaching and grading, but they live up to our high expectations and often receive wonderful course evaluations.

Throughout the course of the day-long conference, I found that no two programs were exactly alike. Each school put its own unique spin on the simple process of undergraduates teaching undergraduates. However, what did remain constant across the board was the enthusiasm that each school exuded for the concept. Students teaching students is just plain awesome.

My advice? Don’t miss out on your chance to take part in one of these programs while at Tufts!