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Academic Triage (And An Excited Rambling On Classes)

January 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I must begin by expressing my sincerest apologies for not putting up a post last Thursday (although, looking back on it, I think I've put up a post on my assigned day only once this term). I was performing Academic Triage to stay afloat. I'm sure this can't be a strictly Carletonian phenomenon, but it always makes me scratch my head a little when I listen to friends at other schools describe the Wednesday afternoons they spend gallivanting around the city or the concerts they go to on Thursday nights. Left unchecked, the Carl in me would immediately reply, "oh cool, a concert for what class?" but alas - I have come to understand that a unique characteristic of the Carleton life is perpetually wishing for a few more hours in a day.

And yet somehow, the idea of having to cut something out of our days is just unfathomable. We love running from place to place; we relish in being stretched thin. That's what makes us Carls. But sometimes... just once in a while... it's nice to curl up in a onesie on the couch with a good book (a book for pleasure, not a textbook... okay, or maybe a really good textbook).

In theory, my week starts out smoothly - not much going on Monday, and Tuesday's pretty much wide open... but then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday come along, and somehow the second part of the week blends into one big day of sleepy chaos. 

Monday 5:55am: wake up for 6:30am Ultimate Frisbee practice. 8:30am: 1a Chemistry. 9:50am: African American History II. 11:15am: quick lunch (breakfast?), shower and nap. 12:30pm: Biology 101 - Human Sex and Reproduction. 2:00pm: work. 5:30pm: cook dinner for the house. 6:00pm: broomball game. 7:00pm: attend a friend's comps talk. 8:00pm: photograph a round table discussion on sex positivity. 9:00pm: Chemistry TA session. Post 10:00pm: homework? piano playing? adventure? sleep (nah...)? The opportunities are endless!

As I was typing that out, I realized the irony of calling today an "easy" day. No lab, no afternoon soccer or Ultimate Frisbee practice... time to fill up my day with all the other exciting things I want to do!

The truth is, I think this has been my favorite term so far, at least academically speaking. Choosing classes at Carleton is, I believe, somewhat of an art. On one hand, one really wants to have a good balance of disciplines. Take too many math and science classes and all you do is problem sets and labs. Take too many humanities and social science classes and you have hundreds of pages of reading a night, plus essays that tend to coincide with each other uncomfortably. On the other hand, rumor has it everyone needs to choose a major at some point, and it's not a bad idea to start honing your classes to that subject. As this is one of my last terms as a free-roaming undecided major, I took full advantage of pursuing a variety of subjects.

My first class of the day is Chemistry 123, the most advanced of a couple introductory Chem courses offered (it assumes that you have taken - and remember some of - high school Chem). I sort of do. I must admit, on the first homework assignment I did Google "what is a mole?" (the Chem major in my house giggled), but I promise it has gone uphill from there. The professor is great - young, eccentric, kinda goofy and wears an awesome bow tie. He is partial to doing fire- and explosion- filled demonstrations in our lecture hall, to which no student could possibly object. I don't think I'm naturally a math-science person, but he's good at breaking down the concepts so we can understand them and offering support outside of class in the form of TA sessions, tutors and private meetings with him.

From there, I move on to African American History II, taught by professor Harry Williams (one of The Voice's "Check It Off: Things To Do At Carleton Before You Graduate" recommendations). A professor here since 1989, Mr. Williams is undoubtedly a presiding figure on campus. African American History II is not the "Race in the U.S." class I took for a year in high school, where the majority of class time was spent watching Spike Lee films. This class is demanding, both as far as class discussions and outside work, but I absolutely love it. It's fun to be challenged to think critically in a group, and Professor Williams demands respect in the form of participation and engagement.

My final Monday / Wednesday / Friday class is Biology 101: Human Sex and Reproduction, in its inaugural year at Carleton. A brief version of the story behind the class: last Spring, three seniors girls approached Biology instructor and endocrinologist Matt Rand and asked if he would be willing to help them learn more about human sex and reproduction. "We have courses in Immunology and Pharmacology, Global Change Biology and Plant Ecology, Genetics and Vertebrate Morphology, but nothing that pertains directly to the things we deal with every day - our own bodies, the bodies of others, and the interactions between bodies," they argued. And so each week, the four of them met to learn about and discuss readings on anatomy, hormones, PMS, fertilization, pregnancy, arousal, attraction, the evolution of the orgasm and the biology of sexuality. By the end of the term, they had decided that Carleton needed a real course like this, and so the professor and three students developed a syllabus and proposed the course to the registrar. "You won't get anyone to sign up," the registrar warned. Yeah, right. The class size, initially limited to 48, was expanded to 61 after over a hundred students showed up for the first day of class.

Finally, I'm doing a 6-credit internship with my freshman year roommate, Julia, through the American Studies department called SCOPE. Each Tuesday and Thursday morning, we go downtown to the Northfield Historic Society to meet with a group of six accelerated, hand-picked, cream-of-the-crop 8th grade students from the Northfield Middle School who are in the process of researching and writing a textbook of Northfield history for 3rd graders. For about three hours a week, Julia and I are teachers. For the most part, we help the students with research (how to navigate newspaper archives, where to find public information from the state, etc.) and writing (grammar, organization of thoughts, how to tailor writing to an elementary school audience, and so on). Every couple weeks, we write letters to the parents, describing the challenges, progress and goals of the group. We come up with worksheets and activities and set deadlines for peer-reviews and final drafts of chapters. So far, the SCOPE program and the students have surpassed all my expectations. It's a nice break from regular classes, and at the same time it's challenging in a way no other class has been.

Hm... I see now that was all a bit long-winded, but it's only because I'm excited about my classes. I wish I could supplement some of this wordiness with pictures, but I'm afraid all I have this time is an extraordinarily dull picture of my Chemistry class (we're taking notes - not even any explosions!).



Enjoy the warm weather (it's 25° today! Hello, t-shirts and sandals.)!


  • January 25 2011 at 8:04 am
    A prospie's mom

    Marlena: your blog posts are wonderful insights into life at Carleton.  Thanks for them! 

    In this one you make a reference to The Voice's list of things to do before you graduate and you include a nice link.  But, the link seems to require a Carleton login for access.  Is there any chance that list can be posted somewhere unrestricted?

  • January 25 2011 at 10:52 am
    Marlena Hartman-Filson

    Prospie's mom -

    Thanks so much for pointing that out - it should be fixed now. If not, please let me know!


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