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Some like it hot

Sophomore Summer's unique appeal

"Sophomore Summer is the Wednesday of their college experience," said Associate Professor of English Ivy Schweitzer, talking about the term that all Dartmouth students are required to spend in Hanover following their sophomore year. For students, Sophomore Summer is a rare opportunity for their class to come together and have the campus nearly to itself. "The students enter the term knowing that they're halfway done with their time here," said Schweitzer, "and they leave not only with fond memories of a summer in Hanover, but with the sense that they've made it over the hump and that they're on the downhill run toward graduation."

Schweitzer believes that students thrive in this environment where they share not only a similar age but common experiences with their classmates. "They're assembled on campus with a group of their closest peers," she said. "In that environment, I see the students express themselves more freely, learn from each other and bond as a class. They really synthesize things during this term."

For Schweitzer, this past summer included directing two independent studies, doing two tenure reviews and reviewing a batch of articles. Among the students she worked with was Frances Cha '07, who spent a large part of her summer doing research for Schweitzer as her Presidential Scholar. Presidential Scholars work as research assistants with Dartmouth faculty, where they prepare to undertake honors theses. The program was endowed by John (Launny) L. Steffens '63. In addition to taking classes on Shakespeare and Restoration comedy and  finishing her science requirements at the Organic Farm, Cha helped Schweitzer create a new course about women in drama. "I read early plays written by female dramatists, as well as plays from across history with prominent female characters," said Cha. "My job was to present Professor Schweitzer with a list of 25 to 30 plays with notes and arguments as to why I thought they should be considered for the course."

Cha's research included everything from 18th- and 19th-century plays about Indian princesses (important today because these stories still influence popular art, such as the Disney movies Mulan and Pocahontas), the Depression-era Federal Theater Project dramas by Lillian Hellman and Clare Booth and modern works by Wendy Wasserstein.

"Frances produced a spreadsheet that listed the play, the dramatist, how the play dealt with women, whether it was a feminist or anti-feminist piece and how it dealt with race," said Schweitzer. "From her work I will choose 15 to 20 plays that show how the influences from this wide range of dramatic works plays out in modern drama."

Asked how she thinks Cha's research will affect the course, Schweitzer said, "It is so valuable to have student input. I have the scholarly expertise to construct the final syllabus but the course won't be successful unless students are interested. Frances' input is important in letting me know what dramatic works resonate with students today."

For Cha, a newly-declared English major, her Sophomore Summer experience could be the foundation on which she builds the rest of her Dartmouth education. "This summer has been incredibly challenging and interesting," she said. "Yet, it hardly seemed like work. My classes and my assistantship with Professor Schweitzer really played into my interests. I'm definitely energized. Mostly though, it's reassuring to know that I'm getting focused and that the field I've chosen is the right one for me."

When she is teaching during the summer, Schweitzer said she usually "requires as much, if not more" from her students. "I invite them to gather again at night for readings and additional discussions. Without all of the scheduling conflicts found in the other terms, students can and do take time for these kinds of programs. It's exciting that they're so eager; I just put them in motion and watch them spin. They talk, they share their experiences and discoveries. They learn so much when they are learning from each other."
Senior Lecturer Paul Veale, who teaches Chemistry 52, a class students need to finish their Organic Chemistry sequence, agreed that courses lose none of their intensity during the summer. "[Chemistry 52] is exactly the same as it is during other terms," he said. "We have to cover the same material. Many consider this to be a 'weeder' course for students who are thinking about medical school."

Veale said that during the summer the atmosphere in the lab is more lighthearted. "In the winter it gets dark earlier. I think students are energized by the extra daylight." The summer heat adds a wrinkle to lab work, though. "The materials we're working with require the students to protect themselves," Veale said, "which means they can't be dressed in the shorts and open-toe shoes they're wearing to class." Their solution? Veale noted, "When I see them in lab, many have changed their clothes."

By JOEL AALBERTS 

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Last Updated: 3/3/13