Winter Session: Timely Access to a World of Knowledge

During three mid-January weeks, students can fulfill prerequisites, earn extra credits — even study abroad.

For as long as she can remember, Sarah Leibowitz has had a keen interest in visiting the Galápagos Islands. But working on a double major in neuroscience and psychology at Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, she never had the time or the budget to fit a trip into her rigorous schedule.

So when she saw that Evolution, Ecology and Conservation — a study-abroad class in the Galápagos — was being offered during CUNY’s January Winter Session, she signed up immediately.

Sea bird scouts for food in the Galápagos.

“Evolution has always been a particularly interesting topic to me. Because I am pre-med, I want to take most of my core science classes here at the campus during the school year, so I could not possibly take a whole semester off to study,” said the 20-year-old junior who will graduate in May 2013. “Taking the winter class in my sophomore year gave me an opportunity to study what I like without sacrificing my other classes. And this course made it convenient for me to realize my dream of going to the Galápagos.”

Leibowitz is among the nearly 14,000 students who enroll in one to two courses each year in CUNY’s Winter Session, which in 2012, on most of the campuses, ran Jan. 3 through Jan. 24.

In those three weeks, students sign up to study a variety of courses. Some, like Leibowitz, who has attended Winter Session classes every year, study abroad through programs like City College’s International Studies’ Seminar on Culture, Class and Gender in Morocco, where students live with host families to immerse themselves in local culture. In this three-credit course, they learn basic-level Moroccan Arabic in their first week, reflect on their experience by writing weekly journals and write a 15-page term paper that pairs personal experience with scholarly research.

Local biologist Carlos Valle talks to CUNY students there on a Winter Session study trip.

Others, like John Jay College senior Abigail Padilla, stay closer to their home campuses, earning credits for courses like Baruch College’s Fundamentals of Management; Brooklyn College’s Family and Children’s Health; City College’s Social Psychology; Hostos Community College’s American Government; and New York City College of Technology’s History of Western Civilization.

Padilla, who will graduate with a criminology major in spring 2012, has begun each new year with a variety of courses that have ranged from English grammar to constitutional law.

Since its inception in 2006, the Winter Session — offered at nearly all of CUNY’s campuses — allows students to fulfill prerequisites, earn extra credits, access courses that might be hard to get into during regular semesters, and in some cases, even graduate earlier.

Senior Stephanie Rojas, an English major at John Jay College and McNair Scholar who plans to go to graduate school to study counseling psychology, started taking Winter Session courses in 2009. She had taken a semester off after high school, and she initially enrolled in a general-requirement course to “get a good start on catching up.”

The small class eased her into college life. “It helped me tremendously,” she said, “because it was a lot easier for me to concentrate on that class alone without having to take four other courses in my regular spring and fall semester.”

Now, she puts Winter Session courses on her calendar to make it easier to plan around her work schedule at Global Energy Efficiency, an Inwood-based energy-management company where she is a researcher.

“I had a good professor and productive classmates,” she said. “It was 9 to 12, which was perfect for me because it gave me the rest of the day to work and take care of my daily tasks.”

Studying during Winter Session will allow Borough of Manhattan Community College student Ashmir Gharti Chhetry to graduate on time. With 15 credits to go and aiming to compete his degree by spring 2013, the 19-year-old is looking forward to the required speech course he’s enrolled in. “I’ve heard other students talking about winter session; they told me it’s intense, challenging and interesting,” he said.

He’ll be the first college graduate in his family, he said, “so this is special for everyone.”

College of Staten Island senior Noor Daoud, who is working on a bachelor’s degree in economics and computer science with a minor in business and philosophy, was looking forward to spending January in China through the CUNY Shanghai University Program “because it will help me be a better social economist and will be a magnificent and unique foundation for my business prospects,” he said.

Daoud, who also is interested in taking the Business in Contemporary China course, a prerequisite for his economic degree, is using his College of Staten Island Presidential Scholarship and Study and Travel Opportunities for CUNY Students grant to finance his Winter Session studies.

“I’m either going to law school, or I’m going to study international relations to get to my ultimate goal of being a diplomat,” he said. “I know I will greatly benefit from this Winter Session course of study.”

And some students, like Queensborough Community College freshman Utsab Giri, a music production major, sign up for the sake of continuous learning. Giri, who came to New York from Nepal a year ago, is enrolled in two courses — English and psychology.

“I’m taking them because the college is just amazing,” he said. “The first time I stepped onto the campus, the vibe was amazing. I have loved all my classes so much that I didn’t want to stop learning, even for three weeks, and I wanted to make the best out of every second I spend in college.”

The 19-year-old Giri, an “A” student, would have taken more than two Winter Session courses — he had his eye on drawing — but there was no time in his schedule. “As it is, I’ll be in class from 12:40 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” he said. “I enjoy the learning process, and when I enjoy something, it gets easy.”

Making things easy and interesting for students is what CUNY’s Winter Session is all about. Sarah Leibowitz, who took Political Science 101 in her freshman year, journeyed to the Galápagos as a sophomore and was eager to start Classics 150 in the 2012 session, encourages other students to follow in her study steps.

“Whether it’s a core-curriculum class that you need or a class that you are interested in,” she said, “it’s a great opportunity to really focus on the class without the distraction or pressure from taking multiple classes at the same time.”