Positive, convivial, intense, gratifying, experiential, passionate, life-altering—these are just some of the words that faculty and students use to describe their experiences in a Maymester class.
The descriptions should not be surprising, when you consider that during last year’s Maymester, some students traveled to a cast iron conference in Kansas where they won an award for original work they created at 2,500 degrees.
Other students learned archaeology by manufacturing stone tools and using those tools to break open animal bones. Still others toured local art museums to understand how the concept of art changes with each institution.
Whether you talk to faculty or students, the consensus is that Maymester is a great way to try something new or to fulfill a requirement, in fewer than four weeks. As graduate student B Mann sums it up, “What’s another three weeks if you have already made it through the semester?”
(Note: Not all the courses described in this article are offered in Maymester 2013.)
“… no other distractions …”
In the 2012 Maymester course “Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art” taught by David Hildebrand, PhD, students visited the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver to ask “What is art and how do we interpret it?”
For Tejas Iyer, a sophomore at the time, art was just a side interest. But in this Maymester course with half a dozen students, he found opportunities for his interest to grow.
“I really liked the small class size,” said Iyer. “There was lots of back-and-forth discussion. I also liked the intense focus of taking only one class with no other distractions.”
Hildebrand believes that teaching and learning in a Maymester course can be very different from taking the same course during a semester. “You get to know people—including the professor—very quickly,” he said.
Hildebrand emphasizes that there is “nothing lightweight” about his Maymester course, even though he may rely more on conversations and less on exams and papers.
Mann says he took the class because of Dr. Hildebrand’s reputation as a teacher and because it was a chance to “very quickly get a requirement out of the way.”
“People hate finals, but there is something gratifying about going through an intense experience together,” said Mann. “Maymester is like that.”
Can I take more than one Maymester class?
No. Because Maymester classes are so compressed, students may only register for one Maymester class.
Where can I find Maymester courses listed in CU Denver Access?
They are under “Summer courses” with a section number that begins with “M.”
“Every day is the equivalent of a week.”
In the space of fewer than four weeks, John Gregory Whitesides covered two world wars in his Maymester 2012 course, “The World at War, 1914-1945.”
To fit a semester’s worth of material into Maymester, he scaled back some of the reading and increased the amount of discussion. “If you lecture for three hours, you end up exhausted,” said Whitesides. “And there are diminishing returns with students.”
By structuring his Maymester course to have more discussion, the time seemed to fly. “[Students] are blown away when, after seven days, you are half-way through the entire class,” said Whitesides. “Every day is the equivalent of a week.”
By the end of Maymester 2012, 45 students in Whitesides’ course could celebrate the completion of one more requirement for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“I would take it again, but I can’t.”
Archaeology graduate student Chris Wernick had spent years studying what people did in the ancient times without ever actually trying it. “It’s a lot more difficult than you might think to make pottery outside,” said Wernick.
He knows that to be true after taking “Special Topics in Anthropology” taught by Julien Riel-Salvatore, PhD, during Maymester 2012, a course where Wernick said he learned to “do it rather than just read about it.”
“I have wanted to teach this course for years, but I didn’t have the flexibility,” said Riel-Salvatore. “Maymester structure gave me that.”
During this “experimental archaeology” class, students created pottery with the raw materials that were available to ancient civilizations. They also created stone tools and used those tools to break open bones (bones for dogs, available at King Soopers) to get to the nourishing marrow, just as ancient peoples would have done.
“It was easy when you figured out where to strike the bone,” said Wernick. “If you put a rock behind it, it split open easier.”
Riel-Salvatore designed these immersion experiments to help students appreciate how material culture was created. “You get to live in the time through the experience,” he said. “That kind of learning takes time and continuity, available in four-hour Maymester classes.”
“It was awesome,” said Wernick. “I would take it again, but I can’t.”
“ … it’s life-altering …”
By the time Rian Kerrane’s students completed her four-week Maymester course in the College of Arts and Media, they had traveled to Hays, Ks., to attend the Western Cast Iron Art Conference, met fellow professionals, created art out of molten iron, won awards and returned to the Denver Campus to create an exhibition of their work.
“Maymester is passionate and hard,” said Kerrane. “Like many intensive experiences, it’s life-altering. A portion of you is changed forever.”
Her students concur. Sara Lornitzo, who has started her own fabrication company, remembers Maymester 2012 as an intense experience with opportunities to meet some veterans in the field of iron pouring and pick up old-school knowledge at a professional conference.
“It was amazing, an absolutely wonderful experience,” said Lornitzo. “Iron casting is dangerous. We had to trust each other and work together. It was a bonding experience.”
Fellow student Walter Ware, a blacksmith by trade, likened the course to “studying abroad.”
“Going to Kansas allowed me to expand as an art student,” he said. “I could see what else you could do with cast iron by seeing what other artists were doing.”
Calling the work her students produced in Maymester 2012 “lovely,” Kerrane is already planning her next Maymester course, which she hopes might include a trip in 2014 to the Seventh International Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art. That conference will take place in Latvia.
“Maymester is an opportunity to do unique things,” she said.