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May term: Westminster offers fun, free, offbeat classes this month

May 18, 2004 Tuesday

Copyright 2004 The Deseret News Publishing Co.
Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)

BYLINE: Stephen Speckman Deseret Morning News

Every May since 1981, something has happened at Westminster College to bring new life to a campus that, like others, would otherwise be winding down.

It's called May Term -- a month when full-time students at the private Westminster can take up to four credit hours of tuition-free classes that are best described as offbeat, "intense" and fun.

Krystle Cook, 20, is taking a two credit-hour class called Kings and Heretics, Renaissance France. Her other class is Victorian Murders, in which she will focus on Jack the Ripper. Cook, a senior majoring in secondary English education, chose the classes because they fit into her history minor.

"I think these courses, more than anything, speak to a love of learning for someone who has taken two full loads," she said. "I look at May Term as more personal enrichment -- and the credits are a bonus."

The May classes don't overlap with the normal spring semester and they sometimes allow for international travel. This year 1,055 Westminster undergraduates have chosen from 115 different May Term offerings.

A class called Capitalism vs. Communism takes students on a 12-day field trip to study in Cuba and New York City. Other classes include Primitive Pottery, History of Rock and Roll and Colombian Terrorism.

Jennifer Sibbett, 20, a senior majoring in chemistry, spent two weeks last May Term with classmates studying diversity in Australia and New Zealand. She uses words like "awesome" and "amazing" to describe the trip and the experience of learning about the integration of Aboriginal and Maori peoples.

This month Sibbett is taking three courses, including medicinal chemistry and a chemistry class that looks at how beer is made. (Hold on, Mom and Dad, young Sibbett still doesn't like alcohol nor does she drink it.)

In fact, Sibbett says the stuff they brew in class wouldn't be fit for human consumption. It's merely to study chemical chain reactions, like how yeast turns sugar into alcohol, and to try replicating the DNA of yeast.

"It's such a nice break from normal chemistry," Sibbett said.

For students shelling out more $19,000 a year to attend Westminster full time (93 percent of undergraduates do receive some financial aid), May Term represents a chance to take classes that they -- and their professors -- can really get jazzed about.

"The students love it," said Westminster spokeswoman Helen Langan. As do the professors. "They get a chance to teach very specific, interesting topics they're personally passionate about within their discipline."

A few professors are teaching students about the habits of prosperous people in a class called Extraordinary Career Success. Business major and junior Mary Dirks, 21, is in that class.

"There's just so much enthusiasm in the classroom," she said. Students and faculty "want" to be there. "It all just feeds off each other."

Dirks sees May Term as the school putting the students first. She has cashed in on the deal each year since her freshman term, even though it means delaying her return home to Ogden by a month.

"You'd be crazy to pass it up," she said.

A class called Reading and Writing in Salt Lake City took Dirks into portions of the city, including a cemetery, she otherwise wouldn't have ventured into on her own. The classes are also a chance to graduate early.

"It could have gotten me out of there a little faster . . . but I'm deciding to stick around for the full four years," Dirks said.

And with good reason. One credit hour of course work would normally cost students $696. It's a bill Westminster is happy to cover, considering the benefits to the school.

"We think May Term is one of the reasons that for nine years straight, U.S. News and World Report has ranked Westminster in the top tier as an excellent educational value among colleges and universities in the West," Langan said. "In fact, last year we were ranked number three." E-mail: