Embracing 'J': UVA debuts two-week term

What college student wouldn't jump at the chance to leave the parties and ski slopes to head back to the dorm in early January to pick up some extra academic credits before the second semester kicks into gear?

Perhaps the better question is: Who are the 290 UVA undergraduates who did decide to take advantage of the university's new two-week "J-term" that started this past Monday morning?

This two-percent cross section of UVA undergrads are a mix of first- through fourth-year students with interests in topics as varied as post-Soviet political challenges, global health, Virginia government, and film noir– and the motivation to cut their holiday break in half for an intensive education in a single subject.

While most on-Grounds classes will meet for four hours daily, at least 80 or 90 J-term students opting for one of three travel programs will no doubt find their lessons occurring 'round the clock. The chance to study the archeological record in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, Renaissance art in Italy, or Spanish cinema in Valencia appealed to almost a third of the students, with the Italian travel option being so attractive that organizers opened a second section allowing a total of 65 students to take the three-credit class.

Vice Provost J. Milton Adams who oversees the new curriculum offerings says this year's J-term classes focused on "unique" courses, classes that emphasized some form of critical analysis, or targeted a particular faculty member's special field of research.

Small class sizes were also a goal for the 16 courses that are currently underway. The 20 slots for "Nation-building in Iraq: Past, Present and Future" filled in the first 45 minutes of registration, the administrator notes. Overall enrollment, he adds, "was right on target."

"We wanted to limit the numbers for the first time, being as it is a pilot program, and we are right where we wanted to be," says Adams, adding that he expects future J-terms to offer more courses and accommodate more students. He says he wouldn't be surprised to see the program's numbers double once course evaluations are reviewed, given that other universities with January terms have experienced upwards of 1000 students.

The university, recognizing that many students depend on holiday earnings, arranged additional financial aid packages. Tuition for the two-week period is based on summer school rates for a three-credit course: $522 for in-state students and $2,232 for out-of-staters.