Middlebury

From gambling to murder, winter term courses are not academics as usual

January 5, 2007

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? Is gambling a good bet? Which works faster as a method of murder: arsenic or mercury? Such intriguing questions set the tone for just two of the many lively and engaging courses that make up the academic offerings of Middlebury College's month-long winter term.

From Jan. 4 through Jan. 31, students will take a brief hiatus from the conventional course-load of fall and spring terms to take a single class, often unrelated to their major, for the entire month. The courses typically take an interdisciplinary approach and, while somewhat fanciful in title, they are thoroughly serious in content. For example, "Gambling: Is it a Good Bet?" explores the fundamental mathematics of gambling as well as its multi-layered social and economic implications. "The Elements of Murder" gamely intertwines chemistry, history and fiction to keep students busy as they move from the lab to the library.

Often professors combine talents and team-teach courses during winter term. Joining the Middlebury professors are several visiting faculty, who this winter include the iconoclastic photo-journalist and music videographer Bee Ottinger, as well as the award-winning author, documentary film-maker and geologist Charles Frankel.

"I love winter term, as does most of the student body," said Middlebury College senior Sandy Sokoloski. "At the very least, it gives us the chance to try something really different from what we normally do at Middlebury." Many students, Sokoloski included, use the term to explore off-campus internships. "Last year, I got to participate in an internship in Costa Rica, organized by mathematics professor Bruce Peterson, teaching English to children and adults. It was completely unlike anything I'd ever done before, and it has actually led to an independent study for this year's winter term, in which I'll be teaching English to Mexican immigrant workers here in Addison County, and then comparing the two experiences in a paper."

Faculty also enjoy the change of pace that the winter term brings. "In winter term, like the students, we can also take chances on something a little different," said Middlebury College Luce Professor of International Environmental Economics Jon Isham, who is team-teaching a course called "Focus the Nation on a Clean-Energy Future," with visiting environmental economist Eban Goodstein. "In my winter-term classes, I have had the opportunity to explore material that was new to me as well as my students. I've also been able to try out new approaches to teaching. Winter term is rigorous, yes; but if it's done right, it can also be a lot of fun!"