Summertime's Short, Sweet Courses

Have you ever noticed that different times of the year seem to bring out the best in people? Take Christmas, for instance. People exude generosity. The motto is "Give and let give." And the good deeds flow.

Lately I've seen a similar kind of spirit stealthily taking place on my college campus. I don't believe this mood is an isolated occurrence. I've taken summer courses before, and each time I observe small fortuitous acts and threads of human kindness.

I am a graduate student majoring in journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton. My classes are generally small gatherings composed of familiar faces. This summer is no exception. My current class is a four-hour multimedia course that meets twice a week. It consists of 11 students.

At our first class, I was greeted warmly by our instructor, Dr. C (we call her this because her surname is a tongue twister). Like the students, Dr. C is a familiar face - I had taken a course with her in the fall, but had not seen her in a while. Welcoming me to class, she gave me a friendly hug as I entered. She extended a similar welcome to other students, offering variations of "It's good to see you," and "Hi! How's it going?"

In the longer fall and spring semesters, most students are different. More uptight. Professors? More professorial. Class assignments? More tedious and drawn out. Topping it off, libraries and computer labs teeter at full capacity. But summer crunches the body count. More students do things they couldn't do during the semester, like the 9-to-5 thing. My friend, for example, now works at a Chinese restaurant and takes one class. She e-mailed me the first week to say that her class involved a lot of research. In the next breath was the silver lining: Only four more weeks to go.

Back in my summer-school classroom, there was a noticeable deviation from fall and spring. One big difference: the syllabus.

This time around, the outline did not evoke the usual OK-so-let's-see-what-you're-really-made-of challenge - like the Research "Until It REALLY Hurts" Papers, the Mother of all Midterms, and the Father of All Finals. No, this time, things were a little different. I'll call it the "summer special." I scanned the syllabus - a very decent-looking, double-sided page consisting of doable class assignments.

But lest you get the wrong impression, this class still involves what is implicit in the others in the fall: discipline and strong study habits. It is not just "surf the 'Net and make an A." There is still research and projects. Due dates still loom. Overall, though, it just feels better. There is no feeling of entering a dark, dark cave for a few months, with meager food and scant sleep, with only the most physically and mentally fit emerging at the end. This time, one can see the light.... Dr. C spoke of her expectations for the class in a in a soft, pleasant manner. She seemed eager to assist and showed signs of what every student appreciates: compassion and mercy. Scattered throughout her explanations were very student-friendly phrases such as "Don't get too stressed out about this" and "You shouldn't have a problem with this."

And it gets better. Nearing the end of her explanations on the class requirements, Dr. C told us that due to prior professional commitments, she would need to end our class a week early. Did we mind? Let's just say that a week deleted from summer classes should never be challenged. See what I mean about summer? Short and sweet.

* DeNell Russell is a graduate student majoring in journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton. She can be found most nights at her PC, typing stories and surfing the Net.

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