Starting winter of 2019, Virginia Wesleyan University will require all freshmen to attend Winter Session. To many, this may come as a surprise as attendance has always been up to students. Provost Timothy O’Rourke, who has been spearheading this project, said that this will bring a positive change to the community.
“Freshmen would have a mandatory Winter Session and this would improve their academic performance, improve retention. For some freshmen, it will enable them to stay on track to graduate, for others it will enable them to get ahead, and maybe take multiple Winter Sessions so they can even graduate early,” said O’Rourke.
Director of Winter and Summer Sessions Deirdre Gonsalves-Jackson explained that courses may be structured differently from the past. “Our approach this Winter Session moving forward is to just sort of do a combination. We plan to offer maybe two, maybe three courses that are more of a larger seminar type of course with 45 or so students,” she said.
One of the biggest reasons for mandatory Winter Session is that the university has been unable to stop students from leaving, especially after a 40 day gap for the winter break. Provost O’Rourke claims that the school has lost roughly a third of the freshman class between students’ first and second years. He said that “improving or reducing that attrition has been a major goal, and I think that with a mandatory Winter Session, we will reduce it.”
Mandatory Winter Session also brings into question students’ financial situations, and how they may change. However, the Provost reports that these classes will be automatically included with fall tuition. “It will be at a higher rate than presently, but currently the Winter Session cost is not part of the financial aid package, so that’s an advantage of making it mandatory,” said O’Rourke.
Winter Session has been known as a time when students can catch up on credits or take some of the most unique courses, such as Faith and Art of Tyler Perry. Students also have the opportunity to attend study away classes in places like Costa Rica, Israel and Mexico. Winter Session is a chance for professors to experiment and teach classes not traditionally offered.
“I like the uniqueness of Winter Session. I think that’s one of the pluses,” Gonsalves-Jackson said. “I definitely want to keep those innovative, out-of-the-box kind of courses during Winter Session. I think that I speak for the faculty in general. That’s what we like about teaching it and that’s what students like about coming back.”
Professor Gonsalves-Jackson also mentioned that the regular courses will still be available as well. “We still want to offer some foundational courses, what you know as general studies courses,” she said.
Although making Winter Session mandatory may have some positive qualities, a few students disagree about the lack of autonomy. “It’s all about personal choice. This could push people away more rather than make them stay,” senior Christiana Yi said.
The goal is to ultimately improve Winter Session and the offered classes and the freshman experience.
“The nature of Winter Session isn’t necessarily going to change because I think it works and I think that it works well. We just want to fold more students into that mix and offer them the same innovative courses,” said Gonsalves-Jackson.