Center for Community Engagement

Real problems, real solutions: Interterm in the CCE

Class portrait of Rethinking Education, a CCE Interterm course
February 2014—story by CCE staff writer Jenny Morgan, photo by Sandra Costello

Tucked between the fall and spring semesters is one of Amherst’s best-kept secrets: Interterm.

For three weeks every January, students can dive into an array of courses that don’t make appearances during the rest of the year: principles and practices of turbine flight, celestial navigation, and cultural competence in medical care. This January, students at the Center for Community Engagement explored everything from community organizing to marketing a local biofuel car. The CCE’s Interterm course offerings included two three-day introductory courses, both led by alumni. In Organizing for Social Change, Destry Sibley ’09 taught the basics of successful community organizing; in Private Equity Investments in Natural Resources, Bob Saul ’81 led students through the challenges and best practices of natural resource investing. Students in the CCE’s two longer courses had the chance to delve into real problems and come up with real solutions.

In Rethinking Education, facilitated by LitLife and LitWorld Executive Director Pam Allyn ’84 and LitLife Team Leader Katie Cunningham, students tackled some of the most urgent questions in public education today in a “think tank style,” explains Robert Siudzinski, director for Careers in Education Professions. For Robyn Farley ’17, the lineup of guest speakers—including New Jersey Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf ’77—offered insight into the very real challenges facing educators, administrations, and students. Farley especially enjoyed a video call with a second grade classroom. “It was really nice to hear their voices and see what they wanted in their ideal classroom and what they valued in their education,” she says.

Students in the course were divided into four teams, allowing them to delve into a specific public education concern. At the end of the course, each group made 18-minute presentations with policy recommendations. Farley’s group focused on student assessment and data, and they recommended that classroom evaluation include more qualitative and performance-based assessments. “Our idea was that we should value curiosity and engagement,” she says. “By allowing students to be more creative, they will be college- and career-ready as a by-product.”  Farley, who now plans to join the education-focused student group, the EDU, says having Interterm as dedicated time to focus on education “allowed us to produce a lot of really good ideas.”

For Johnathan Appel ’16, having that dedicated Interterm time meant exploring something he’d never done before: social enterprise. Appel was one of 14 students in Social Enterprise in Action, a course facilitated by Megan Lyster that enabled students to tangibly explore how business can address social problems. “I wanted to learn what makes a successful and sustainable business model that, at the same time, has a social impact,” he explains. “I’ve always been interested in social change, and social enterprise seemed like a cool way to instigate change.”

Lyster divided the class into two groups, and each was partnered with a local social enterprise company. One team worked with AMS Imports, a rug import company that sells handmade, traditional rugs from all over the globe; the other team partnered with ROOPOD, a startup that makes a three-wheel biodiesel vehicle. Appel and his team were tasked with creating a new social media strategy for AMS Imports, and he encouraged the company to “tell a socially responsible story about the rugs,” he says. “These rugs take months to make, and they’re works of art. We suggested using social media to highlight the stories behind these high-quality, responsibly-made rugs.” Like students in Rethinking Education, students in Social Enterprise in Action shared their work on the final day of class. “Our presentations were for each other, but they were real business presentations,” Appel says.

Appel was surprised to discover how much he enjoys consulting. “I liked thinking through the most effective way to market a company,” he says, “and being able to do that while keeping to my values was really cool.” Appel may get a chance to continue doing that, too—he’s currently in conversation with AMS Imports about working together this semester.

To learn more about what students did in Rethinking Education, watch a video of their final presentations.