The first time engineering professor Ronald Lasky taught the Engineering 3 course “Materials: The Substance of Civilization,” he struggled to find more than 20 students willing to enroll. This term, Lasky is struggling to find a classroom that can hold the over 300 students signed up for the class.
“We couldn’t find a room big enough to hold everybody,” Lasky said. “We were scouring the campus for a room right up until the morning of the class.”
The course was split last week into two back-to-back class sections, but in a Monday BlitzMail message to students, Lasky’s assistant, Judith Durell, told enrollees that 30 students were “urgently needed” to switch to the second session because the Wilder classroom only holds 166 students.
Lasky’s course is one of several large low-level summer courses that enroll massive numbers of students. Lasky admitted that his course’s popularity may be due to its relatively “non-threatening” satisfaction of the Technology and Applied Sciences distributive requirement, but added that he thinks student enthusiasm for the subject has been a strong enrollment factor as well.
“Students find the course a lot of fun,” he said. “I try to make things interesting by doing sort of neat demonstrations in between lectures. One time I made a big copper axe and brought it into class to show students.”
Lasky’s sentiments were similar to those of some students who are currently enrolled in large lecture classes. Many students described their motivation for signing up for such courses as a combination of interest in the subjects and the opportunity to fill distributive requirements with relative ease.
Anastasia Kendrick-Adey ’08 said that she signed up for Classical Studies 4, “Classical Mythology” — which enrolls 130 students — in hopes of having a “comparatively easy” workload in a term that also includes organic chemistry. But she added that she also has an interest in the subject.
“I’m interested in Greek Mythology, and I wanted to take a classics course for fun,” Kendrick-Adey said. “[And] it fulfills my CI and TMV,” referring to the Cultural Identity and Thought, Meaning and Value requirements.
Kendrick-Adey had heard from other students about how easy the class was before she enrolled, she said.
“I did ask about the difficulty of this one, and its rumored easiness certainly influenced my decision. However, I was more interested in the distribs,” she said.
Engineering 3 and Classical Studies 4 have two of the summer’s three highest enrollment counts, with 306 and 130 students respectively. Last year, they enrolled 193 and 58 respectively by the end of the summer. The third, Astronomy 3, “Exploring the Universe,” currently has 107 students. One of them, Melissa Rudd ’08, said that she thinks the high enrollment has to do with the class’ satisfaction of the Science with a Lab requirement.
“I think most students, like me, need to get science requirements out of the way,” Rudd said. “And I think that summer is the nicest time of year to be outside and look at the stars.”
Both Rudd and Kendrick-Adey said that they plan to take their courses during the summer term as seriously as any other. According to Upperclass Dean Teoby Gomez, the College strives to maintain its rigorous academic standards during the summer.
“Many students have never been in school during the summer, and their summers have been a break from school so they fall into the trap of thinking that academics can’t be as rigorous,” Gomez said. “It only takes a quick comparison of a syllabus or the first exam to see that the same rigor is there.”
College Registrar Polly Griffin said that students neither have lower grades nor take fewer courses during the summer than any other term. She also said that courses with large enrollment are not more prevalent in the summer than in other terms.
“Departments carefully plan what they’re going to offer in the summer,” Griffin said. “It’s not the case that there are more courses in the summer that lots of students want to take.”
According to Rudd, the large enrollments do not detract from her classroom experience.
“I don’t see the size as being a major factor, because once you get over a certain number, maybe 50, in a lecture hall, the experience is pretty much the same,” Rudd said.
Despite overcrowded classrooms, Lasky said he prefers large enrollments. According to the engineering professor, the heightened enthusiasm that comes with a large group outweighs the “logistical challenges” of having so many students.
“I get kind of a kick out of having lots of students,” Lasky said. “Big groups tend to laugh more at my jokes.”