For Clark’s graduate students, winter break is often a rare time to unwind and take a breath between busy semesters. But during this year’s COVID-extended winter break, many are taking advantage of online Winter Intersession — or “Wintersession,” as it’s commonly called — course offerings to fulfill prerequisites, get a head start on degree program requirements, or to keep engaged and stay connected.
Kevin Finn, working toward his master’s in community development and planning in the International Development, Community, and Environment department (IDCE), is an AmeriCorps alumnus who came back to Worcester because of the quality of Clark’s graduate programs. With his adviser, Professor Ramon Borges-Mendez, Finn co-designed an independent study course, “Housing Finance and Institutional Actors.”
In his work with AmeriCorps, Finn used Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help provide housing and expand economic opportunities, primarily for low- and moderate-income people. “My primary goal for the course was to gain a better understanding of how the CDBG programs work and how they can be used more effectively to generate change,” he says.
Wintersession’s online format has allowed him to engage with Borges-Mendez easily. “The format is unique — though it’s easier to lose track when you’re not attending class in person with other students,” he says. “The key to success when taking a Wintersession, online, or independent study course is to remain on top of things. I have a pretty extensive sticky-note system I use to organize myself and to keep myself on-track.”
Delaney Pummill is taking Project Management during the break to stay on course to graduate in December. “I think this class will help me gain more project management skills and knowledge that I will be able to use not only in other courses moving forward, but also in my future career,” she says.
A first-year MBA student at the School of Management, Pummill chose Clark for her graduate degree after two years with AmeriCorps because of the high value the University places on individuals with service experience. Focusing on social change and sustainability, she plans to continue to make service a key part of her career.
Lisa Ahmed, in her second year of IDCE’s international development program, is taking Professor Margaret Post’s Wintersession class, “Social Policy: Qualitative methods for design and analysis,” because she wants to learn more about qualitative research and become a more discerning consumer of research studies.
Ahmed came to the United States as a child of parents who experienced forced migration, which inspired her to focus on refugees, forced migration, and belonging in her graduate work. She believes IDCE’s program is tailor-made for her goals and long-term objectives because it provides knowledge that she can use and build on in her career as a social worker.
For David Sullivan, B.A. ’20, an intersession course, Program Development, was a way to keep busy over the extended break and earn an extra credit. “We are creating mock programs designed to help promote healthy behaviors in disadvantaged communities, which I can apply to my professional life,” he says.
Sullivan is currently working on his MPA in the School of Professional Studies. His Clark undergraduate work led to an internship with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, where he is now an Economic Development Fellow.
Gloria Pappalardo enrolled in Advanced Vector GIS to fulfill a degree requirement, and is enjoying the opportunity to delve deeper into vector analysis methods. “I really appreciate the hard work Professor Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger and our course assistant, Mitch, put into preparing materials that are educational and engaging across the distance,” she says.
Pappalardo chose the geographic information science master’s program because of Clark’s history as a leader in geographic research, along with the greater depth of its two-year program. IDCE’s transdisciplinary curriculum has exposed her to diverse humanitarian topics and opportunities to use GIS in several different research realms.
Each student acknowledges that as Clark enters its third semester of online learning, classes have become easier to navigate, but it takes extra effort to be successful.
“I was worried about a 6-week course being extra difficult since it’s a lot of information in a shorter amount of time, but it’s been a very reasonable workload and actually lighter than I expected,” says Pummill. “It’s gone very well so far and working as a team has been valuable.”
“The most important thing you can do is let the professor know when you are having a hard time understanding something,” says Ahmed. “The professors at Clark understand that students may be struggling, but they are willing to work with you to help you accomplish the course goals.”
Pappalardo recommends trying to develop connections with classmates to discuss assignments and course concepts. “In today’s remote world, it also makes the whole experience less lonely,” she says.
For Sullivan, time management in the world of Zoom classes is critical. He notes, “To keep track of my homework, professional work, and personal life, I keep a whiteboard calendar above my desk with different colored markers to indicate due dates and events.”
Wintersession instruction is conducted by Clark faculty as well as industry leaders and experienced instructors from other accredited institutions. Clark also is hosting a number of virtual events and a wide variety of programming during the extended break.