With Fall 2015 pre-registration opening soon and new distribution requirement proposals sparking campus-wide debate, many students have academics at Vassar on their mind. However, some students are not only preparing to choose their classes, but to teach one as well.
Each year, students are invited by the Vassar Student Association to apply to teach student seminars. Existing on and off, and now annually since 1969, the student seminars are held as a way to provide a space for students to share a unique subject matter with their peers.
Classes run through the month of April and all Vassar students were invited to sign up for one or all, with the prospect of getting their first choice looking good.
Since nearly every Vassar student is busy, it is not surprising that this application process attracts passionate instructors who are dedicated to the idea of investing time and energy into their seminar.
Logan Hill ’16 is the current VSA VP for Academics and was in charge of putting the student seminars together this year. He felt that the application process was less about weeding out bad student seminars and more about making sure that the subject matter is appropriate and educational. He explained, “We try to just get a feel for why the individual wants to teach the seminar and what experience they have in the field.”
The application required a short course description outlining what the seminar hopes to accomplish, as well as the necessary budget, space, and equipment needs. Furthermore, the VSA asked for a comprehensive syllabus for the classes.
Needless to say, seminar leaders must be both knowledgeable and motivated to teach their chosen subject. This year’s topics range from salsa dancing to songwriting and photography to reflecting on time at Vassar.
Tyler Fultz ’15 is running a seminar titled A Puzzle within a Puzzle, which he describes as an exploration in solving meta crosswords. Meta crosswords are puzzles that require additional steps once the crossword grid is filled to reach an intended final answer cryptically sought by the crossword constructor.
Fultz said, “I was introduced to these puzzles by teachers in high school who also frequented these puzzle sites, but I, until very recently, knew of no other Vassar students who knew what these puzzles were.”
He stressed that no prior knowledge is needed and that the seminar will be very hands-on.
“I chose this topic because I am part of the meta crossword community and solve at least one meta per week,” added Fultz.
Curriculum planning and an hour of class each week is a commitment for any involved student on campus. Hill said he thinks a main attraction to the seminars, for both facilitators and students, is that they allow students to be arbiters of their own education, sharing their passions and specializations with fellow students.
Hill said, “Vassar has taught me knowledge and education ought be collaborative processes, and student seminars let Vassar students do that.”
Fultz had previously heard about the seminars but never took one in his previous years at Vassar. As a senior, he said he realized in the fall that he could share his hobby with others and hopefully grow a community interested in meta puzzles at Vassar during his last semester.
Attending a seminar would resemble the classic liberal arts classroom the campus is familiar with: a small, interactive classroom. They are held in student spaces, at a time that works for all who signed up.
As with many VSA endeavors, funding is provided for the student seminars. Five dollars are available for up to 12 students for each seminar. Beyond that, instructors are allowed to charge a fee of three dollars per person.
A small but valuable investment for the VSA, student seminars stand as an additional example of Vassar’s Mission Statement, according to Hill. He said, “They take us away from the idea that knowledge is something simply delivered from professor to student and allows students to be more presently involved in their own educations.”
Fultz added, “I think student seminars are uniquely able to fill the gaps at Vassar in conversations and topics that students are interested in but have few outlets for exploring here.”
Not unlike other academic endeavors at Vassar, the seminars aim to leave students more knowledgeable than before, with a passion or want to apply what they gleaned from the experience to their life.
By organizing the seminars, Hill said he hopes students have fun while learning from their peers and that the instructors feel rewarded as they get to share something they are really passionate about.
Fultz said, “I am just glad to finally have others to bounce ideas and strategies off of that I hope will continue to communicate beyond the course.”
In full, student seminars offer a unique space for students to explore niche interests and engage with their peers.