Veteran professors weigh in on the upcoming Maymester
Julia Taylor/ Sun Star Reporter
Mar. 11, 2014
Maymester is one of the UAF educational innovations that has become a tradition for faculty and students.
This year, the Maymester professors range from the theatre department’s newest professor, Brian Cook, who will teach FRAME: Acting for Anyone, to the political science department’s Gerald McBeath, who will teach his last Political Economy class before retiring.
Each year, UAF offers two chances for students to take a chance to earn three credits in just two weeks, Wintermester and Maymester. Students are limited to only taking a single class, and as
McBeath says, “You better be ready to make that class your total focus. You don’t do any less work, so students need to really want to be in a Maymester class.”
The chance for an almost total immersion in one class
is both the advantage and the challenge for the students taking Maymester classes, and the professors who choose to teach them according to Tim Wilson, a Spanish professor. Finding ways to absorb a huge amount of information compressed into two weeks of non-stop learning is an intense experience. Wilson has been teaching Maymester classes since they started five years ago and has found that crafting a class to teach quickly, thoroughly and most often with experiences that are totally unique at UAF, is a test of professional stamina and creativity of the professors who create and teach the courses.
Each professor who chooses to teach a Maymester course
has different reasons for choosing the shorter format. Sarah Stanley loves teaching English and says that the first time she taught a Maymester course it was her first year at UAF, and “it was a way to teach the one course that I’m most passionate about and don’t get to teach on the regular schedule.” She isn’t teaching that course this year, but the experience teaching in shorter formats is one she likes. Wilson is committed to making sure that the courses he teaches are taught in the format that best suits the material. He teaches the Si, Si! Summer Intensive Spanish Immersion class in a condensed format because it is the best way for students who have solid 200-level languages skills to make the leap from “knowing Spanish, to thinking and dreaming in Spanish.” Wilson says that when a student tells him they are dreaming in Spanish, he knows the format is right. While so far he has only taught it as a Maymester class, Wilson is open to teaching it during other times of the year.
Many Maymester classes are only taught
in May and in the shorter format. For Trent Sutton, a fisheries professor, teaching his Freshwater Fish Techniques class only makes sense in the condensed format of Maymester. Sutton’s class learns sampling and data gathering techniques in the morning, which students put to use that afternoon. Field trips to streams and lakes near Fairbanks give students a chance to record data and collect samples. They have learned to identify and process many different samples, including the stomach contents of different fish. Without the work of the students, the state wouldn’t have high quality data and analysis of many areas near Fairbanks, Sutton said. He added that he couldn’t teach the class another way or any other time. In May, streams aren’t frozen, so fish and other samples are easier to access.
Sometimes Maymester’s format is the only way for UAF to bring in some guest professors, who have a busy schedule the rest of the year. Thomas Emmer, is a UAF alumnus running for Minnesota’s open senate seat. Emmer brings his public service experience to teaching State and Local Government,
a class offered by the political science department. Without Maymester’s format, Emmer wouldn’t have had the time to teach those sections, McBeath said. McBeath used to be skeptical about whether an intensive two week block could really cover a semester’s worth of content. His Maymester teaching experience last year changed his mind, and thinking about how to use the format, led to pursuing guest professors that usually wouldn’t be considered, like Elmer.
Like other professors, Film and Journalism professor Robert Prince teaches Hands on Documentary Film Production in Maymester because “the format gives students a unique opportunity” to see how professionals make the decisions they do, as they work on all areas of the film’s production and shooting. Prince says that “Most documentary shorts in the professional world have less than three weeks to shoot, so students experience the real pressures of creating a documentary.” This year’s documentary will focus
on the underground tunnels that are hidden below UAF. They have been closed off for over a decade, so students will be documenting both the current and historical use of the tunnels. Like any documentary, there will be more editing and polishing to do after the Maymester “shoot ” before the film is ready to be released. Like the FRAME: Acting for Anyone class taught by Cook, there will be opportunities for Prince’s students to take classes during summer session, that will build on the work done during Maymester.