Summertime… and the learning’s pleasing
While taking two Yale College courses this summer and living on campus, rising junior Vanessa Cheng felt a sense of adventure reminiscent of her earliest weeks at Yale.
Participating in Yale Summer Session (YSS) has allowed her to take classes she might not have been able to fit in her schedule during the regular academic year and meet people from all over the world.
“With how eager everyone is to connect, I feel like I’m back in the excitement of my first year at Yale College,” she said.
Cheng is on campus for Yale Summer Session — which provides undergraduate courses and programs in person, online, and abroad to Yale students and students from around the world — as part of a special arrangement the university made at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which allowed then first-year students and sophomores to earn two Yale summer courses they could take any time before graduation. That special offering is available to those who enrolled in both the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters and took at least one semester remotely.
One of the courses that Cheng, a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major, enrolled in is “Human Osteology,” which examines the anatomy and characteristics of the human skeleton and its various uses in medical, archaeological, scientific, and other studies. The course follows a “flipped” model, meaning that students study materials online but gather in person in the lab. In fact, this is the first summer since 2019 that in-person summer courses are being offered at Yale. And while only Yale College students were allowed to live on campus last summer while taking online courses, this year all students — including international students and high school students — are again able to be in residence.
During the summer, Cheng has also been invited to participate in numerous activities planned especially for residential summer students, including trips to Broadway, Six Flags, and Yankee Stadium, study breaks, intramural sports, and hikes.
“I think one thing that differentiates Yale Summer Session from summer programs at other schools is that we do our best to give our summer students a residential experience that is similar to what students have during the regular academic year,” said Jeanne Follansbee, dean of YSS and associate dean of Yale College.
Nearly 1,900 college and high school students enrolled in more than 200 for-credit YSS courses offered in two, five-week sessions this summer. (The second session ends on Aug. 5.) The courses have allowed students to explore such topics as “1,000 Years of Love Songs,” “Moralities of Everyday Life,” “Painting Basics,” “Galaxies and the Universe,” “Elementary Arabic,” “Climate Change, Societal Collapse, and Resilience,” “Race and Comedy in the U.S.,” “What Is Law?” “Israeli Narratives,” “Neurobiology,” and “Electronic Dance Music: Fundamentals,” to name just some.
“Human Osteology” is among the more popular summer courses, according to Follansbee. In fact, one reason that Eric Sargis teaches it during the summer is because it is in such high demand during the academic year that he has to turn many students away. Typically, 100 students pre-register for the course, and since it is lab-based, he can only accommodate around 25 of them.
“It’s a very exploratory, hands-on course, which is why I think students find it so fun,” said Sargis, professor of anthropology. “I get everyone from pre-med students who want to learn bone biology or bony anatomy to archaeology students who will be going off on digs. … Every student gets a plastic skeleton to take home for the duration of the course. With the skeleton, they can study the fundamentals on their own time, and then they can spend their time in the lab really getting down to the nitty gritty.”
Sargis, who is also curator of mammalogy and vertebrate paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and director of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, says he enjoys teaching the course in the summer because he gets to meet students from outside of the university — including high school students and those from other colleges — in addition to Yale undergraduates. “They are all very dedicated, which is necessary in a course where a lot of material is condensed in five weeks,” Sargis said.
The shorter course duration also is one of the reasons that Paul North, professor of Germanic languages and literatures and the new head of college for Jonathan Edwards College, enjoys summer teaching. He is in his 10th year teaching the popular summer course, “The Logic of Dreams,” which he has offered as an online course for the past three years.
“I like teaching in the summer because students feel freer, and the compact schedule pushes them to dive deep into one set of thoughts for a short but intense period,” said North, whose course explores dreams and whether they have meaning — and what that meaning might be.
Baking with rye, and other summer offerings
This summer, the largest classes have been introductory lecture courses in physics aimed for students majoring in the physical sciences or engineering, according to Follansbee. Nearly 100 students enrolled in Physics 180 and 181. Courses in the social sciences, however, tend to be the most heavily enrolled courses overall, with psychology courses among the perennial favorites, Follansbee said.
Over 65% of the summer courses are taught by Yale faculty and around 15% are taught by current Yale graduate students, with the remainder taught by visiting faculty, according to Follansbee.
For some faculty members, the summer also offers a chance to try out new courses, said Rich Collins, Director of Online Education and Information Systems, who oversees online course development and faculty recruitment for Yale Summer Online and the support of faculty members as they roll them out.
Collins and his team assisted Maria Trumpler, a senior lecturer in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, as she developed a new online YSS course called “Rye: Cultural History and Embodied Practice,” which she co-teaches with Jeremy Oldfield, manager of field academics at the Yale Sustainable Food Program, and Laura Valli, a doctoral candidate in the Washington State University (WSU) Bread Lab. The course explores “the biology, agriculture, changing cultural importance, culinary practice, and mythology around ‘Rye,’” according to their description. It also examines the embodied practice of women who bake with rye, among other topics.
To create some of the course content, Jakub Koguciuk, a member of Collins’ team, filmed the instructors while they visited the Yale Farm as well as a number of local distilleries and bakeries. These pre-recorded videos were later shared as part of the course.
Trumpler has been teaching in-person and online courses for Yale Summer Session for the past 15 years, but she said that the “Rye” course is especially suited to online learning.
“One of the benefits is that you can have baking experiences, because most of the students are in places — often their own homes — where they have access to the kitchen. Creating the pre-recorded video content while visiting local businesses that work with rye in practice also allowed us to bring students by video on ‘field trips’ to see practitioners share their practical knowledge about rye.” Some students accompanied Oldfield and Trumpler to the Yale Farm, where Oldfield has been growing wheat and rye from the WSU Bread Lab, while others not on campus shared in the experience remotely.
In addition to the many summer courses, the Yale Summer Session also hosts several other academic programs. These include the Yale Summer Conservatory for Actors, a two-credit Yale College course, providing an intensive five-week introduction to basic techniques of acting, taught by graduates of the David Geffen School of Drama; a 10-day non-credit intensive workshop teaching essential tools of directing called “A Practical Approach to Directing”; and the non-credit Yale Writer’s Workshop, a workshop-based program, led by writing faculty, which also features a series of panels with authors, editors, agents, and publishers who share their experience with small groups of writers.
Non-credit certificate programs for international students designed to help them improve their English and develop skills that will benefit them in their academic or professional careers are also offered.
New this year is an intensive online writing workshop for high school students. “We had 40 students participating in this new program and they have expressed that they love, love, love it,” said Follansbee. “It’s a writing-intensive workshop where students do a lot of revision, and it sold out very quickly.”
A summer pace
During her summer in New Haven, Vanessa Cheng has been pleased to discover the variety of campus activities that allow a respite from coursework.
Residential counselors, who are all Yale College students, send out regular newsletters to the students living on campus to let them know of weekly events. (The counselors, along with five residential directors — recent Yale graduates who oversee life in the residential colleges — and Head of Summer Colleges Alexander Rosas are among some 400 faculty, summer assistants, online course support staff, and residential life staff hired just for the summer to support the YSS mission.)
“I’m looking forward to an ice cream trip with my residential counselor group,” she said.
While there are challenges to learning material in such a compact period of time, Cheng said that she has fully enjoyed her summer stay on campus.
“…[W]e move very quickly, and it feels very different from classes during the fall and spring semester,” she said. “However, since I am only taking two summer classes, I feel like this fast pace also keeps me engaged with the material.”