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For Unique Courses, Summer Session Rules

Cat's Night Out by Amy Hagberg

Mary Wallace knew exactly what she wanted from a summer class: It needed to be online. It needed to fulfill one of the requirements for her English degree. And if it felt a little lighter than her regular course work, that would be a welcome relief.

She found all of that in a pop culture class studying Stanley Kubrick’s films. 

“I think the timing just really worked out this way because my schedule is fully locked and loaded for the fall,” she said. “It does feel a little lighter.”

With nearly 600 undergraduate and graduate courses to choose from, USM students don’t have to slow down over the summer if they don’t want to. Summer classes are split into two sessions and last four, seven, or 14 weeks. Some special summer workshops run a single intensive week. 

But while the traditional courses are there — think chem lab or microeconomics — Summer Session also offers some more unique options. 

Book arts. Classic sci fi films. Kubrick. And more.

“I tend to teach it in the summers. I don’t know why, it just seemed to be more appropriate,” said English Chair Dr. Shelton Waldrep, who leads the Kubrick class. “It’s an upper division English class, it’s a serious class, but I thought it was just kind of a fun thing to do when things aren’t quite as formal and stressed on campus.”

Students in that seven-week May-June class had assignments and lectures, but they spent a lot of their time watching Kubrick’s films, from “Full Metal Jacket” to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” from “The Shining” to “Eyes Wide Shut.” 

“You almost have a history of filmmaking in many ways encapsulated in those final films,” Waldrep said. “They almost teach themselves in a way, because they’re varied. '2001' is science fiction, 'Full Metal Jacket' is a war film, 'The Shining' is a horror film. They’re teaching film genres that are popular, but they’re also examples of extremely personal filmmaking — I would even say kind of experimental filmmaking in many ways — and straddle this unusual divide between the popular and artistic.” 

For students who want to focus on just one genre, there’s Dr. David Pierson’s four-week course on classic science fiction films. The July class starts with early sci fi, such as the silent film “Metropolis,” and runs through 1950s monster movies, 1970s blockbusters, and modern philosophical sci fi.  

Like Waldrep, Pierson only runs the course in the summer. He also leads a similar summer class on horror films.

“To put together a full semester class is quite an undertaking. This lets me sort of try out these different ideas that I have and see how this works, and kind of have some fun with it, too,” he said. 

For students who want something in-person and hands-on, there’s the Book Arts Summer Workshop, an intensive course that runs the first week of August and invites a different artist-instructor to class each day. Students work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, learning how to design and create their own artist’s book that will be displayed at USM’s Glickman Library. Lunch is included.

“It’s like an art camp. It literally feels like that because you come, they feed you, we get together at one table, talk and eat,” said Annie Lee-Zimerle, the Assistant Art Professor who organizes the workshop. “It’s really different. It’s really fun.”

Grad students who want something unique and career-focused have Trauma-Responsive Schooling, a four-week July class that helps educators create lessons, policies, and practices that help kids who have experienced trauma. The course is led by Dr. Mark Tappan, who for years has taught a similar course at Colby College in Waterville. This is the first time he will be teaching it at USM. 

While trauma in childhood and its impacts have been gaining attention for years, COVID-19 provided a spotlight. 

“There are a variety of ways in which the pandemic has increased stress and adversity and trauma in kids’ lives, I think now more than ever,” he said. “And (for) teachers as well. There’s a whole other piece to this that we’ll be touching on and that’s self care for teachers. Everybody’s been traumatized. It’s been a really, really difficult two-and-a-half years in schools.”

Undergraduate nursing students who want something unique and career-focused had Advanced Nursing Skills Lab, a May-June course that put them in the Boyne Family Simulation Center, where they worked with state-of-the-art technology and ultra realistic patient mannequins. 

“You turn on the oxygen, your patient gets oxygen,” said Sarah Powelson, Director of Health Care Simulation and Interprofessional Education. 

For students seeking extra support to catch up over summer, there was Complete Your Incomplete: An Academic Writing and Growth Workshop. The four-week May-June course helped students deal with incomplete coursework. They had the option to register for no credits and take the class for free or register for one credit at the cost of tuition.  

“We wanted there to be no barriers, but also to offer credit as it does focus on academic skills and self-reflection in addition to the coursework students bring from prior semesters,” said course instructor Dr. Lisa Walker, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of English. “I think that most, if not all students, are taking it for free, which is interesting and encouraging in terms of what it shows about students' investment in making academic progress.”

 The course is a pilot based on workshops previously offered by Dr. Carrie Kancilia, Faculty Director of Writing Services. If successful, it may be offered again.  

 “We decided to try it as a more sustained workshop to see if we can help some students get across the finish line, or even help them decide whether retaking the class is a better option — there are no wrong answers,” Walker said. 

Students spent the course working on unfinished assignments from previous courses, including those in Philosophy, Sociology, English, and Women and Gender Studies. The workshop also focused on areas like procrastination and perfectionism, issues that could easily derail a student. 

 Anastasia Hawes-Watson, a Business Administration major, signed up for the workshop to get help with an unfinished research paper for a past English class. Her problem wasn’t writing too little, it was writing too much. Her paper topic kept changing and she ended up trying to write it with dissertation-level intensity, which didn’t work. 

 “Whenever I meet an English teacher whose opinion I actually care about, I always have a lot of anxiety,” she said. “That anxiety got a hold of me.”

 Walker helped Hawes-Watson reach out to her former English professor about the assignment, learn how to draft and edit, and find software to help collect her bibliography. 

 “Just having that extra time has been helpful,” Hawes-Watson said. 

 USM’s unique summer courses draw students from both inside and outside the university. Sometimes far outside. 

The Book Arts workshop once had a student from California who took the course without credit just because she wanted to learn more. The Kubrick class this year included Namie Ozawa, a visiting scholar from Japan who teaches American society and culture through films at Rissho University. Before the end of the Kubrick class, Ozawa had already signed up for another summer course, this one on postcolonial literature.

While some students take summer courses purely to explore their interests, others do it to get ahead — or to keep up — with their degree program. 

 “It gives me a little extra time to spread things out while still hitting the same number of credits,” said Hawes-Watson, who takes summer classes every year. “And I love the vibe in summer classes. It tends to be much more low key. Not that you aren’t learning the same amount, but just the general energy is a lot less stressful.”

 Wallace, who took the Kubrick class to meet an English degree requirement, also signs up for summer courses every year. 

 “They’re a great way to get your credits in and also any required courses. I don’t think people realize there are more required courses and core requirements offered in the summer than they think,” she said. “Not enough people take summer courses. I think that it’s under-appreciated.”

The second Summer Session starts July 5. Registration is open until the first day of class. The Book Arts Workshop,Trauma-Responsive Schooling, and science fiction film class currently all have seats available.