Hammers, singers and increased numbers of alumni were on hand for Interterm this year as the college established several new programs for students on campus between the fall and spring semesters.

The hammers came out for a new, non-credit course, “Homebuilding 101,” offered in conjunction with the college’s growing partnership with the Pioneer Valley Chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Taught by Habitat volunteers and co-sponsored by the college’s Outreach program, the course was designed to familiarize  students with the construction of a single- family home, “from foundation to punch list.” Over the course of the three-week class, students learned about footings, foundations and interior finishes, among other things. Since the Habitat homes that will be built on Amherst land will likely incorporate some sustainable design elements, a special course session focused on “green issues,” including solar power and heating.

A highlight of the program was the hands-on opportunity for work at a Habitat home under construction in Northampton. M J Adams, executive director of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity, noted that the Interterm training participating students received will enable them to work as crew leaders on the Amherst Habitat homes when construction begins later this year.

Hammers were in hand in New Orleans, too, where seven Amherst College students and two professors participated in a clean-up trip organized by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Pat O’Hara, the Thalheimer Professor of Chemistry and one of the trip organizers, said the volunteers worked for five days in the devastated city, clearing debris and gutting homes so that rebuilding could begin. “We slept on the floor, cooked our meals in the church kitchen, and really felt that we were able to make a big difference in the lives of the elderly and disabled homeowners with whom we worked,” O’Hara said. “Everyone we met had their own story, and hearing these stories was just as important as getting the work done so that these people could begin to put their lives back together.”

While some Amherst students were building homes, others stayed on campus to learn about careers. The Career Center and the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs sponsored programs that brought growing numbers of alumni to campus to talk with students about life after graduation. Sessions focused on topics ranging from publishing to international medicine. Many featured panel discussions as well as networking receptions.

Andrew Lundstrom ’09 spent the first two weeks of Interterm “seeing friends and relaxing a lot” at home in Burlingame, Calif., then returned to campus in mid-January and surprised himself by going to all the alumni career events. “I have no idea what I want to do for a major or a career,” he said, “so I thought attending the sessions might at least help me determine a field. Unfortunately,” he laughed, “the sessions only made me more interested in all of the fields discussed.” He may have moved a bit closer to clarity, though, during a session on environmental science. “At one point, I thought, I’m probably not going to go into something directly related to this,” he said. “But if I’m ever in charge of something involving environmental science, I’ll be aware of the impact that green issues can have.”

Other students spent Interterm preparing for this year’s operetta, a Five College production of Candide, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Richard Wilbur ’42. Directed by A. Scott Parry and Music Director Mark Lane Swanson, the production featured a cast of 20 Five College students, as well as priceless golden sheep laden with priceless golden stones. The students (and sheep) rehearsed at least 10 hours a day each day during Interterm and presented four sold-out performances in Buckley Recital Hall early in the second semester. Since their inception three years ago, the Interterm musical productions have quickly become popular. “I’m the artsy, creative type,” said Max Rosen ’07, “so I probably wouldn’t have spent Interterm doing an internship. Candide was a great opportunity to get involved with professional directors on a musical theater project.”

While most students seem to agree that there’s still room for enhanced programming during Interterm, several praised the flexibility that the period provides. “This wasn’t something that was forced on me,” Lundstrom said. “I felt very self-directed and self-motivated. I was the one getting myself to lectures. I had a chance to sample the programs that Amherst put out there for me. I didn’t expect it to be earth-shaking, but it turned out to be really worthwhile.”