By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Charlie Bicak, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, uses the proverbial phrase to describe the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
As COVID-19 continues to impact higher education, you have to look for ways to take advantage of a difficult situation. That’s exactly what UNK was able to do through its January intersession, which allowed students to pursue additional learning opportunities and progress toward their degree requirements during the longer-than-usual winter break.
Created as part of the university’s COVID-19 mitigation plan, the three-week session gave students a chance to enroll in a variety of online courses or participate in internships and other experiential learning opportunities. The credit hours they earn count for the spring semester, which begins next week.
For second-year student Sydney Atkinson, who plans to graduate a semester early, the intersession was the perfect time to complete a 100-level intro to business course, clearing the way for more advanced classes next semester. Atkinson recently changed her major to business education and she wants to remain on track to finish her degree in December 2022.
“This was a good way for me to catch up on a class I would have taken my freshman year,” she said.
Although she prefers in-person learning, Atkinson appreciated the intersession’s online format because she was able to work at her own pace and focus all of her attention on a single course.
Flexibility was another big benefit.
Atkinson spent two weeks in Texas while working as a nanny for a Kearney family and she also returned to her hometown of Butte in north-central Nebraska during the winter break.
“It was definitely nice because I had the opportunity to still travel, despite being enrolled in a class,” she said.
Nearly 600 UNK students enrolled in at least one three-week intersession course, generating 1,500 credit hours. Some students picked a class within their major, and others used the opportunity to explore a new subject area or special topic.
UNK offered 35 different courses, ranging from one to three credit hours, across its three academic colleges.
“The early indications are that this is really turning out to be successful,” said Bicak, who is pleased with both the student enrollment numbers and faculty participation.
“There’s a nice distribution of the courses, as well as variety across the colleges,” he noted.
Alyse Pflanz, a lecturer in the department of management and coordinator of the business teacher education program, couldn’t have been happier with the interest in her intro to business course.
Typically, around 10 students sign up for the in-person version she teaches each spring, and most of them are business education majors she advises. Twenty-four students took her online course during the intersession, including future business teachers, pre-professional health sciences majors who want to operate their own practices and students who are generally interested in entrepreneurship.
“I had 20 of my 24 students say they didn’t even know this class existed before,” Pflanz said.
For the intersession, she created a condensed version of the course that covers the intricacies of a business plan and requires each student to connect with and learn from a business owner or entrepreneur.
“Even in a three-week period I’m still making sure they get that real-life experience,” said Pflanz, who also appreciates the flexibility the intersession provides.
Faculty who are teaching a class now have the option to lessen their course load during the spring semester, taking Pflanz’s total from four to three. That helps when you’re pursuing a doctoral degree of your own.
Because of its success as a pilot project, Bicak would like to see the intersession added to the academic calendar in future years.
“We’re already thinking about doing that,” he said.