While taking two courses at Yale College this summer and living on campus, aspiring junior Vanessa Cheng felt a sense of adventure that reminded her of her first few weeks at Yale.
Attending the Yale Summer Session (YSS) has allowed her to take courses that she might not have been able to fit into her schedule during the regular academic year and to meet people from all over the world.
“With everyone eager to socialize, I feel like I’ve returned to the excitement of my freshman year at Yale College,” she said.
Cheng is studying during the Yale Summer Session — which offers academically rigorous undergraduate courses and programs to Yale students and students from around the world during the summer months in person, online, and abroad — as part of a special arrangement the university made at the outset of the COVID -19 pandemic, which allowed freshmen and sophomores at the time to purchase two Yale summer courses to take at any time before graduation. This special offer applies to those who have enrolled for both Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters and have taken at least one semester remotely.
One of the courses Cheng, a molecular biologist and biophysicist, has 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. It follows a “flipped” classroom model, meaning students study materials online but meet face-to-face in the lab.
In fact, this is the first summer since 2019 that Yale will be offering in-person summer courses. And while last summer only Yale College students were allowed to live on campus while taking online classes, this year all students — including international students and high school students — can once again be in the dorm.
During the summer, Cheng was also invited to participate in a variety of activities planned specifically for summer dormitories, including trips to a Broadway show and to Six Flags, movies at local theaters, intra-campus sports, hikes, and a trip to Yankee Stadium, study breaks and much more.
“I think one thing that differentiates the Yale Summer Session from summer programs at other schools is that we do our best to provide our summer students with a residential experience similar to what students have during the regular academic year,” said Jeanne Follansbee, Dean of YSS and Associate Dean of Yale College.
Cheng is among nearly 1,900 college and high school students enrolled in about 200 YSS credit-based courses offered this season in two, five-week sessions. In these courses, students explore topics such as 1,000 Years of Love Songs, Morals of Everyday Life, Fundamentals of Painting, Galaxies and the Universe, Elementary Arabic, Climate Change, Societal Collapse and Resilience, Race and Comedy in the US,” “What is Right?” “Israeli Narratives,” “Neurobiology,” and “Electronic Dance Music: Fundamentals,” to name a few.
“Human Osteology” is one of the most popular summer courses according to Follansbee. In fact, part of the reason Eric Sargis teaches it in the summer is because it is so busy during the academic year that he has to turn away many students. Typically 100 students enroll in the course and as it is a laboratory course it can only accommodate around 25 of them.
“It’s a very exploratory, hands-on course, which is why I think students find it so entertaining,” said Sargis, professor of anthropology. “I get everyone from medical students who want to learn bone biology or bony anatomy, to archeology students who are going to dig. … Every student gets a plastic skeleton to take home for the duration of the course. With the skeleton, they can study the basics in peace and then really get down to business in the lab.”
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 can meet students from outside the university — including high school students and students from other colleges — in addition to Yale students. “They are all very engaged, which is necessary in a course that compresses a lot of material into five weeks,” Sargis said.
The shorter course duration is also one of the reasons why Paul North, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and new Head of Department at Jonathan Edwards College, likes to teach in the summer. In his 10th year he is teaching the popular summer course “The Logic of Dreams”, which he has been offering as an online course for three years.
“I like teaching in the summer because the students feel freer and the compact schedule gets them to go deep into a train of thought for a short but intense time,” said North, whose course looks at dreams and whether they matter – and what meaning that meaning might be.
Baking with rye and other summer offerings
This summer, according to Follansbee, the largest courses were introductory physics lectures aimed at students majoring in science or engineering. Almost 100 students were enrolled in Physics 180 and 181. However, courses in the social sciences tend to be the most enrolled courses overall, with psychology courses among the all-time favorites, Follansbee said.
According to Follansbee, more than 65% of summer courses are taught by Yale faculty and about 15% by current Yale graduates, with the remainder by visiting faculty.
For some faculty members, the summer also offers an opportunity to try new courses, said Rich Collins, director of online education and information systems, who oversees the development of online courses and faculty recruitment for Yale Summer Online, as well as supporting faculty members during the Study monitors the get out.
Collins and his team assisted Maria Trumpler, an associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, in the development of a new online YSS course, Rye: Cultural History and Embodied Practice, which they co-authored with Jeremy Oldfield, the academic coordinator, teaches the Yale Sustainable Food Project and manager of the Yale Farm, and Laura Valli, graduate student in the Bread Lab at Washington State University (WSU). The course, as she describes it, “examines the biology, agriculture, changing cultural meanings, culinary practices and mythology surrounding ‘rye’.” It also explores the embodied practice of women baking with rye, among other things.
To create some of the course content, Jakub Koguciuk, a member of the Collins team, filmed the instructors as they visited the Yale Farm and a number of local distilleries and bakeries. These pre-recorded videos were later shared as part of the course.
Trumpler has been teaching face-to-face and online courses for the Yale Summer Session for 15 years, but she said the “Rye” course is particularly suited to online learning.
“One of the benefits is that you can get some baking experience as most students are in places – often in their own homes – where they have access to the kitchen. The creation of the recorded video content while visiting local companies working with rye in practice also enabled us to take students via video on “field trips” to see practitioners sharing their practical knowledge about rye.” Some students accompanied Oldfield and Trumpler to the Yale Farm, where Oldfield grows wheat and rye from the WSU Bread Lab, while others who were not on campus attended 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 offering an intensive five-week introduction to essential acting techniques taught by graduates of the Yale School of Drama; a 10-day intensive non-credit workshop teaching essential directing tools entitled “A Practical Approach to Directing”; and the Non-Credit Yale Writer’s Workshop, a workshop-based program led by the writing faculty that also includes a series of panels with writers, editors, agents, and publishers sharing their experiences with small groups of writers.
Non-credit certificate programs are also available for international students, designed to help them improve their English and develop skills that will benefit them in their academic or professional careers.
New this year is an intensive online writing workshop for high school students. “We had 40 students who took part in this new program and they expressed that they love, love, love it,” Follansbee said. “It’s a writing-intensive workshop where students revise a lot, and it sold out very quickly.”
A summer pace
During her summer in New Haven, Vanessa Cheng enjoyed discovering the variety of campus activities that provide a break from coursework.
Housing advisors, all of whom are Yale College students, regularly send out newsletters to the students living on campus to update them on weekly events. (The counselors, along with five residential directors — recent Yale grads who oversee life in the residential colleges — and summer colleges director Alexander Rosas, are among the approximately 400 faculty, summer assistants, online course tutors, and residential staff dedicated solely to the were hired in summer to support the YSS mission.)
“I’m looking forward to an ice field trip with my housing counselor group,” she said.
Though there are challenges in learning material in such a short period of time, Cheng said she fully enjoyed her summer stay on campus.
“…[W]We’re moving very quickly and it feels very different from the fall and spring semesters,” she said. “But since I only attend two summer courses, I have the feeling that this fast pace also keeps me engaged with the material.”