Over a ten week winter break, the University of Notre Dame will be piloting its first Winter Session, during which many forms of virtual experiences will be offered for students who want to use the time for networking, service, academics or research.
Provost Marie Lynn Miranda appointed Regan Jones, director of Notre Dame’s office of military and veterans’ affairs, to lead and coordinate planning for the Winter Session.
“It was important to Provost Miranda [and Father Jenkins] that we created these sort of meaningful engagement opportunities for students to be able to gauge them and ensure their development and mind body spirit during the winter break,” Jones said. “If I can use a football analogy here, that's sort of one side of the goalpost. And then the other side of the goalposts would be we recognize that our students and our faculty are tired and want a break. And so for some 10 weeks. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to decompress and focus on other other activities.”
Based on nearly 7000 responses to the Winter Session Interest Survey sent out on Oct. 6, Jones’ team has divided the engagement offerings into four categories: online academic courses, research experiences, professional development and community engagement.
“I think for some faculty, they're excited because they have the opportunity to teach a course that they may not have previously had the opportunity to teach.” Jones said.
Jones and his team are currently sifting through 148 proposals submitted by faculty for potential courses to be offered over the Winter Session. Community engagement opportunities will be virtual volunteer service opportunities. Research experiences are envisioned to be in person or remote.
“Our wish and our hope is that our students are able to leverage the Winter Session in a way that helps them develop, to be a better person, to help them to maybe provide some relief in the spring if they want to take a course in January,” Jones said.
The Meruelo Center for Career Development will offer a routine schedule of professional development programs on weekday afternoons for four weeks. Mondays will focus on Discernment, Tuesdays will focus on Discovery, Wednesdays will focus on Pursuit, Thursdays will focus on Showcases and Fridays will focus on Mock Interviews. Other opportunities through the Career Center will include mentorships as well as short term internship experiences.
“There will be plenty of mentors to go around if students make the effort to connect,” said Ryan Willerton, associate vice president for career and professional development. “So it's not a situation where a student puts their name in and says, have a mentor reach out to me. We're going to utilize Irish Compass, and we're going to utilize LinkedIn. The most meaningful mentorship relationships usually come through when a student finds somebody who they have something in common with, or they're working in a particular field that they want to learn more about.”
The short term experiences, some potentially paid and many unpaid, will be aimed to replicate longer internships that won’t be available in the time frame that the Winter Session takes place.
“We're still asking our entire employer network, and we're partnering with other departments on campus, everything from academic colleges to our University Relations staff who work with our alumni clubs to create opportunities for students, even if it's just for two or three weeks. The way we're approaching it is any experience is good experience,” Willerton said.
Many of these opportunities will be available through Handshake. There will also be materials available for those who would like to work independently on their careers as well as materials to begin studying for the graduate school admissions tests like the MCAT, LSAT or GRE.
“We're going to have a self-driven checklist where we'll tell students, ‘you can create a lot of opportunities, you can do a lot of this work on your own, particularly, if, for some reason you're not able to join us or if you don't have technology at home to join via Zoom,’” Willerton said. “There's still a lot that students can do on their own.”
Willerton echoed Jones’ hopes that the Winter Session will give students an opportunity to keep careers in mind while also catching up on some much-needed rest.
“We also didn't want to offer something every single day that students are back home, because then they would feel like they have to get involved,” he said. “Students need to find time to just relax, take care of themselves, take care of their families and their friends and recharge for what's going to be a challenging spring semester.”