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Off the Hill | Dartmouth College | Missed opportunity

Published: Monday, September 9, 2013

Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 01:09

The first time I came to visit Dartmouth, I asked my tour guide what defined the “Dartmouth undergraduate experience” so highly spoken about in U.S. News & World Report. Without hesitation she answered, “Sophomore summer!” Yet two months into my own sophomore summer, I find myself lacking the same excitement as my first tour guide. Why? Dartmouth has missed the opportunity to make sophomore summer a “defining experience” and has instead allowed it to be just another academic term.

As I was scrolling through the timetable of classes in the summer at the end of spring term, I realized that the courses taught in the summer are not the same courses offered any other term. Rather, the courses offered in the summer are the blandest of all. With some departments only offering introductory courses and maybe one other mid-level class, I find myself wondering, what exactly is the point of taking classes in the summer? Not only is there nothing special about the courses offered, but also a summer term “on” means that Dartmouth students are forced to take another “off.” While I realize the benefit of the D-Plan is being able to intern when other students are not — affording Dartmouth students greater access to more competitive internships — all of Dartmouth’s student body is never on campus at the same time because of the forced off-term. Changing the structure of sophomore summer will make the D-Plan more worthwhile. By taking full advantage of having the entire sophomore class on campus at the same time, Dartmouth can foster an “undergraduate experience” unlike any of its peer institutions, one built on community, camaraderie and collaborative innovation.

Former President Jim Yong Kim’s frequent allusion to his predecessor, John Sloan Dickey, in each of his major speeches forged Dickey’s words into a motto of Dartmouth in this decade, “Embrace the world’s troubles as your own.” Yet, I fail to understand how Dartmouth as an academic institution has incorporated these rather profound words into its undergraduate studies curriculum. While Dartmouth has funded undergraduate-faculty partnership research in the summer through the James O. Freedman Presidential Scholars program and offered seminars through the “Leading Voices” lecture series, neither grants Dartmouth students the opportunity they need to make the changes they want to see in the world. What if there existed classes and independent research opportunities that afforded Dartmouth students the ability to, for instance, invent something in Thayer, develop an iPhone app in Sudikoff, found a nonprofit in Silsby, tutor and mentor international high school students remotely from Bartlett or design the schematics of a sustainable house in the Black Family Visual Arts Center? Dartmouth needs to find a way to make more of sophomore summer by encouraging innovation, incubating new ideas and, above all, challenging Dartmouth students to find a practical solution to a world’s trouble with the knowledge they have been bequeathed after two years attending the college.

Why has Dartmouth missed this opportunity? Sophomore summer is just about the time when Dartmouth’s undergraduates have gained enough sense of what they’re good at, put enough thought into what they want to do with the rest of their lives and gleaned enough know-how in the classroom to produce projects of significant substance on their own. In addition, it is one of the few times that one’s peers are all in Hanover with limited time commitments due to the lack of full-functioning clubs and athletic teams in the summer. The relaxed atmosphere of June, July and August in Hanover is conducive to producing the change that Dickey encouraged of Dartmouth students and Kim reiterated, yet Dartmouth has failed to provide outlets for this sort of group work and innovation to flower.

Fostering an experience like the one I propose does not have to take place completely outside of the classroom. Perhaps academic departments can also take advantage of smaller classes and the ability for Dartmouth students to handle just a little bit more work, and offer classes on bigger critical issues of practical importance rather than bland introductions. As a start to improving what seems to be a rather lackluster term called “sophomore summer,” Dartmouth should offer seminars within major academic disciplines and require every sophomore to take one as a pass/fail distributive — bringing like-minded individuals together (in groups of any size) and allowing them to together take the reins of their Dartmouth education and apply it to the greater world community. This will make Dartmouth different.

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