The Interview Subcommittee: A Must-do Before You Graduate

Written by Erica Rigby, A’15 and student interviewer

There’s something to be said when students are offered the chance to sit on the other end of the interview table, influencing whether the prospective instructor before them is going to drive home all of the ExCollege values we’ve come to know and love. Being on an interview subcommittee sheds light on the vast number of intellectuals in our world who can teach classes. For the student who volunteers, it’s a mere three hours in a morning or afternoon that suits your schedule. Being on a subcommittee reveals the best qualities of our learning community, and ultimately deepens your Jumbo pride.

The handful of enthusiastic Tufts alumni who propose courses, some of whom graduated in the 1950’s and 1960’s, provided the most touching moments for me as the student interviewer.  These folks brought you a huge grin. They entered the room garnered in Tufts jerseys and baseball caps, carrying a briefcase of photos from their glory days as a student here. When asked why they wanted to teach their course, they expressed heartfelt desires to be present on the big hill and give back to the learning community that enriched them as a youth. This one older, eccentric Jumbo came into the room with the idea to watch detective films each week and discuss them with students over popped corn. They are thrilled by the prospect of an intergenerational, intellectual Jumbo journey.

How will you treat the topic sensitively? Can you describe how you envision the 2 ½ hours your class meets once a week? What sort of student do you envision signing up for this?  How can we pull in students who are international? Does it aim to integrate humanities and sciences? How will this strengthen the student as an active citizen? Can we make this global? These are some of the things we pin on our prospective instructors when we’re learning their visions for the semester. Through the series of inquiries, the values of Tufts arise: social consciousness, active citizenship, interdisciplinary thought, and global mindedness. Being an interviewer in general brings you a deeper pride in this Jumbo nation.

Processing Applications!

Now is the time of year when we are actively gearing  up for Fall 2013 courses. The journey is a long one for the courses proposed, and right now we are at the point where we will be interviewing candidates for the 22 positions open in the fall. Check out this infographic to see the steps required for choosing upcoming ExCollege classes!

Musings of a 2nd Year Student Worker

Written by Marcy Regalado, A’15.

The Experimental College: an idea that bubbled into my mind when attempting to figure out what exactly this could mean to a small freshman looking for an ordinary student job on campus, though this was no ordinary department executing ordinary tasks. No, the Experimental College reconfigures the rigid frame of what courses a university may offer to its students. The interdisciplinary ExCollege courses allow students to dive into topics with a new lens or focus, assisted by the expert(s) teaching the class.

There are always people here pushing the envelope and reinventing the ordinary and the expected; people who bring attention to exciting topics and subtopics yet to be examined. Our instructors are the experts in their fields. Wouldn’t you want to have a full-access pass to the expert of a burgeoning subject that enables you to look at a topic through a unique perspective? Working behind the scenes at the ExCollege allows me as a student worker to get first-hand access to these fresh ideas—to the ideas that add an edge to a subject, draw attention to an obscure (but very important!) field, or build a bridge between two topics that you never would have thought possible.

Working for the ExCollege has given me a look into what education can really do. Education at the collegiate level becomes more of an investigation rather than a fact collecting anthology. The ExCollege brings the investigative topics that students deem important off of a piece of paper (the application) and into the classroom. It is fascinating to take part in the process of determining what course proposals will ultimately make it into Tufts’ classrooms.

We receive about 145 course applications for approximately 23 spots. Getting to work one-on-one with Robyn Gittleman (Director), Howard Woolf (Associate Director), and Cindy Stewart (Assistant Director) on these course proposals is always the best part of my job. It’s refreshing to be in conversation and working with adults that are looking out for the best interests of the students. The ExCollege openly welcomes the opinions of Tufts’ students, and the college respects, listens to, and considers all suggestions made. The course evaluations that we receive at the end of each semester are taken into account for future courses, and the ExCollege continuously uses these evaluations to enhance the student experience through new initiatives, programs, and classes.

My friends are always asking me what the ExCollege is doing, what courses we are offering, and what resources we have for Tufts students. The ExCollege is a department that puts the student first. It highlights interdisciplinary subjects.

It’s where ideas are made into challenging and insightful courses. The ExCollege gives me the privilege to be a part of a department that puts innovative ideas in the classroom for Tufts students to challenge themselves and to gain new perspectives.

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.

Knowing and Believing in John Steinbeck

Written by Madeline Hall (A13), who co-taught the fall 2012 Explorations seminar “Steinbeck’s Humanity.”

Teaching my Explorations seminar was perhaps the single most beneficial academic choice I made at Tufts; the curiosity and depth of the student’s inquiries shed greater light on the worth of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden than I could have ever guessed. Further, they held a mirror to my own experience at Tufts, launching my mind perpetually to the past of my own freshman year. Be it a trope or not, their genuine and committed involvement in the class taught me more about myself than any class in which I had ever been enrolled.

East of Eden served as my spiritual text from the day I finished it. Completely taken by the story of family strife, Biblical mystique, and the rage between good and evil, East of Eden quickly became the text by which I lived my life. The depth of its contents and every thematic helix that spiraled from its plot made the book an ideal candidate for intensive study. This logic made the absence of East of Eden from virtually every syllabus on Tufts’ campus that much more puzzling; how could it not be taught, with its rich understanding of the intricacy of human conflict and confusion?

My conviction in the book’s offer of salvation was shared by my Explorations seminar co-teacher, the friend who initially encouraged reading the book in the first place. Bolstered by our mutual love of the literature, we crafted a syllabus in the comfort of our own confidence – this book was the best, and surely others would feel the same, right?

Cue the crippling doubt that consumed me on the first day of class. Standing in front of the students called to mind what standing in front of a firing squad must feel like; the intimidating circle of first-years, armed with skepticism and adolescent insolence, were perfect soldiers suited to destroy my flimsy defenses. My understanding of body language became so acutely attuned to each student’s minor movement that a crossed pair of arms suggested utter disinterest and a yawn condemned my every effort to teach.  I was certain of their suspicion as a result of my own disbelief: how did someone decide I was qualified to teach?!

As the semester passed and the students consumed the book, though, my own incredulity abated. I understood that they were as new to college as I was to instruction, and that our respective efforts had brought us together in this class. I knew the book, knew my own passions and abilities, knew the worth of the course; all it took was the introduction of the students, eager and incredibly bright, to turn this knowledge into true belief in myself.

Even now, I cannot fully grasp my good fortune. Perhaps, as I have done so often, Steinbeck can speak more clearly to my greatest marvel in regards to this experience: “It is one of the triumphs of the human that he can know a thing and still not believe it.” I know the class has changed me; I simply still cannot believe it.

Teaching Perspectives

Written by Samantha Tye (A13), co-teacher of the Perspectives seminar ‘Films of Genocide.’

I can only imagine the thoughts going through my students’ heads the first time that we met as a group. Sofi Shield and I started out full speed ahead asking for names and dorms and hometowns. We wanted to hear about summer adventures while we simultaneously spewed out advice. I knew we were talking a mile a minute, but our excitement to meet our freshmen was too strong to contain. After about ten minutes of our premature advice-giving, one brave student raised her hand and asked, “Wait, isn’t this a class about genocide?”

I guess it wasn’t clear to our freshmen that during orientation week we would act as their advisors; help them get acclimated to campus and registered for their first semester. The stark contrast between new school year excitement and the somber topic of genocide added to the hilarity of the moment. Sofi and I burst out in laughter, realizing how absurd we must have seemed. The class was sitting patiently, ready to delve into crimes against humanity, and there we were, blabbing about our favorite professors. We quickly explained the misunderstanding, and our students joined in with laughter of their own. Needless to say, this broke the ice and set a wonderful tone for the remainder of our semester together.

It is hard to say what my favorite part of each week’s class was. Even as the semester went on, our freshmen never ceased to amaze us with their insight and perspective on the films we watched. They expressed wonderful commentary about portraying genocide through film and thoughtfully spoke about ethical dilemmas within the genre. I truly believe that I learned as much as the students did about genocide films. Sofi and I learned even more about being leaders, working with others and conducting a class.

On a simpler but equally enjoyable note, our weekly check-in at the beginning of each class was refreshing and allowed for continual relationship-building. I think all of us—teachers and students alike—really appreciated the twenty minutes we took to shares highs and lows of the previous week. We got to congratulate successes and suggest solutions for troubles. Our classroom environment was unlike that of any “traditional” Tufts classroom experience. Sofi and I were much more our students’ equals rather than their superiors.

Sometimes, when Sofi and I would be drawing up lesson plans, we would refer to our students as the “little ones.” We would quickly correct ourselves, however, because it didn’t feel right to establish that much distance from our students. Far before the end of the semester, we realized the “little ones” were first and foremost our friends and peers.

Explorations: An Experience that Enhances a College Career

The following blog post comes to you from John Dame, current junior and co-teacher of the fall 2012 Explorations class NCAA: Athletes, Sports, and Money. 

In the spring of 2012, my classmate Jon Sobo approached me about teaching an Experimental College class that coming Fall. I had taken a class taught by my peers as a freshman, but I was fairly skeptical about teaching. The class I took my freshmen year was extremely productive but I was not sure I could handle leading a classroom on a weekly basis. Jon and I are heavily involved in the football program at Tufts, which marginalizes our schedules quite a bit. Therefore, I was concerned I was not going to be able to pledge enough time to the class due to our other commitments.

However, we were able to put forth a lot of energy into the course. We decided to teach about the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), doing classes on everything from recruiting and coaching to life as a Division I athlete. We arrived on campus in late August and engaged in extremely helpful training, learning how to teach the class with its long length of two and a half hours. After the training, we participated in orientation with our students, which was a rewarding experience. The opportunity to spend time with our freshmen on their first day away from their parents was valuable. We immediately became the people they looked to on campus, as they did not have anyone else. This allowed us to form some great relationships with our students.

Once orientation ended and our students settled in, they formed a great relationship with each other. Aside from teaching, this was the most enjoyable thing about running an Experimental College class for freshmen. On the first day, they were awkward, scared, and antagonistic towards each other. However, by the third week, students were bringing in birthday cakes and decorating our classroom for their peers. Their relationships quickly developed and they relied on each other as they endured their first few months of college.

Overall, the teaching experience worked perfectly. The students were respectful each week and we achieved our goals by the end of the course. Each student received a well-rounded education on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and they all delivered excellent final papers that displayed their knowledge of the subject. Each of them took the class very seriously and also made sure to let us know that they appreciated our efforts in teaching them. We had little to no problems in our class and it was an incredible experience that made me value my teachers and the Tufts community even more.

What if you could major in the ExCollege?

I asked our student workers to imagine a world in which you could major in the ExCollege. I asked them to tell me what courses they would take this spring to fulfill the requirements for this very unique major. This is the response I received from Lynne Koester, senior, English major, and ExCollege veteran.

First of all, I essentially am covertly majoring in the ExCollege.  To date, I have taken ten ExCollege classes (including internships) which is more classes than in my declared major of English.  Basically what I’m saying is that the ExCollege should give me a second diploma in May (hint, hint, Robyn).

The ExCollege’s mission is to add breadth to students’ educations that we might not get otherwise from our chosen paths.  I, on the other hand, focus on ExCollege classes because I realized at the beginning of my sophomore year that I wanted to have a career involving Sports Film/Video.  The ExCollege fills the gaps that Tufts’ offered majors leave, and I’ve consistently taken the film and sports classes that the ExCollege offers.

The End of the Year Evaluation for an ExCollege class asks how impactful the class was for each student.  One of the answers is “life changing.”  While that option seems a bit dramatic, I can say with absolute certainty that my college experience, career path, friends, activities—indeed, my life—would be radically different without classes such as Making Movies and Sports Journalism in the Internet Age.

Anyway, clearly I’m the ExCollege’s biggest groupie, so it should come as no surprise that I had a hard time picking which classes I would take if I could officially major in the ExCollege.  Beky asked for four or five, so here are my top…eight.

1. EXP-0050-CS: Media Literacy

I am hoping to take this class somehow despite the fact that I need to have all my evenings free for my internship (also an ExCollege class…) because it sounds amazing and totally applicable for everyone.

2. EXP-0020-S: Forensic Science: An Exploration

I am unclear as to how a class can get cooler.

3. EXP-0030-S: Sabermetrics: The Objective Analysis of Baseball

This is certainly a class I should take, but I know that I would be SO, SO, SO BAD at it, which is exactly why I should take it.  But, you know…got to keep my weeknights free.  Cop out.

4. EXP-0014-S: The Art of Improvisation

One of the teachers of this class is the owner of overall-jorts, which is hilarity I think speaks for itself.

5. EXP-0026-S: Architecture/Music: Sound and the Built Environment

Here’s a combination of two things that always amaze me and that I know less than nothing about.  Also, the teacher is probably one of the nicest people I know.

6. EXP-0033-S: Campus Community Emergency Response Team

Learning CPR and other, um…stuff that can save lives has been on my to-do list forever.  Hopefully not getting around to it won’t have some seriously not good consequences.  I feel like this class should probably just be mandatory for everyone.

7. EXP-0040-S: Positive Psychology Theory and Application

For when singing “Don’t Worry Be Happy” to yourself in the mirror stops working.

8. EXP-0056-CS: Making Movies

As an alum, I’ve got to throw this bad boy in there.  If you have any interest in film, this class will be simultaneously the best and worst thing that will happen to you.

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!)

Submittal

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.

Selection

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 Big Day is Finally Here!

For the past two and a half months our staff here at the ExCollege has been eagerly anticipating today. Why, you might ask? Today is the deadline for visiting lecturer proposal applications! It’s the day when we get to see what exciting topics various people have come up with to teach to our Tufts undergrads. Here is a sampling of some course titles that I’ve seen so far today: “Protecting Your Rights with the Constitution and a Computer”, “Eros of the Impossible”, “Lady Gaga: The Art of Performance and Fame”, and “The Catholic Church in Nicaragua”. Needless to say we have quite a variety of topics to choose from! While we do a lot of interesting things here at the ExCollege, getting to see the different topics that are proposed each semester is definitely the highlight of working here. Continue reading