SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College’s January Interim gives student and faculty the month to focus on a single topic designed to push through the walls of the traditional classroom. In one of those courses – Grassroots Organizing and Social Justice: Applying Anthropology to the Here and Now – students will learn that academia and activism are intertwined.

The course includes several Spartanburg community partners, and it is being funded through the Milliken Sustainability Initiative made possible by a $4.25 million grant from the Romill Foundation awarded to the college in 2015.

During Interim, students and professors are free to explore new and untried topics, take academic risks, observe issues in action, develop capabilities for independent learning and consider different peoples, places and professional options. Students have the opportunity to study abroad; participate in local, national and international internships; conduct research; or participate in on-campus non-traditional courses.

“I teach a two-part course on community sustainability and wanted to design an Interim that connected both semesters with an intensive month of service-learning work,” says Dr. Alysa M. Handelsman, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology. She and James Stukes, coordinator of college access and student success, are partnering to teach the Grassroots Organizing and Social Justice course.

“The students in that class already identify and design projects. The Interim gives them the opportunity to devote their month in Interim to launching their program so they aren’t starting off that launch in February with a full course load,” she adds.

Handelsman says students not in that course also were recruited for the Interim, including Bonner Scholars, Gateway Scholars and other who are involved in the community and wanted to be involved beyond volunteerism. “This course allows students to do that. The focus is for students to become community partners through service-learning work.”

Students in the course will work independently on community-based learning projects in Spartanburg, primarily in the Northside community near campus.

“We’re excited about this project, since students will get the opportunity to examine what social justice means across disciplines and spaces and apply these definitions to understand Spartanburg and its neighborhoods on a national scale,” Stukes adds.

The students will travel to New Market, Tennessee, to visit the Highlander Research and Education Center, an organization fosters grassroots movements focused on justice, equality and sustainability. There, they will receive will learn alongside representatives from five Spartanburg community organizations. Participating organizations are the Spartanburg Housing Authority, the Mary Black Foundation, the Northwest Community Center, Cleveland Academy and the Northside Development Group.

“Students then can apply these lessons to their projects,” Handelsman says, adding that the students will organize a three-day symposium on community sustainability in April, with Allyn Steele, a 2005 Wofford graduate and co-director of the Highland Center, as the featured speaker and workshop presenter. Steele was a history major and Presidential International Scholar while at Wofford.

Among the other on-campus courses from which students can choose are:

Kitchen Chemistry (Dr. Zachary S. Davis and Dr. Heidi E. Bostic, both assistant professors of chemistry) – Students will explore chemical reactions that occur during the cooking process and will learn about the role of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and other nutrients in the chemistry of flavor. They also will explore some of the tools chefs use to prepare ultra-fancy “molecular gastronomy” dishes as well as try their hand at making butter, cheese, candy, bread and more dishes in this hands-on course.

Build an Affordable House, Save the Environment, Transform a Community (Dr. William DeMars, professor and chair of the Department of Government and International Affairs) – Students and their professor will do volunteer work on one or more Habitat for Humanity houses in Spartanburg three days a week during Interim, often working side-by-side with the prospective house owner. They will receive skills and safety training and will learn about the “environmental footprint” of the house. They will study the problem of energy conservation in new and remodeled houses. The problem of affordable housing in Spartanburg also will be part of the course.

Water and Society (Dr. Cynthia T. Fowler, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology) – The course will examine the relationship between culture and freshwater. Students will explore the current state of freshwater in indigenous, rural and traditional communities around the world; how people are responding the global changes in freshwater resources; the causes and effects of changes in the state of freshwater; and how the biosocial context of freshwater influences human well-being.

Nonverbal Communications: What We Say Without Words (Dr. Joe A. Spivey, associate professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics, and Dr. Katherine R. Steinmetz, associate professor of psychology) – Students in the course will explore various nonverbal communications, such as a smile, a nod, a wink – all of which are obvious ways that convey meaning without words. Through readings, social experiments, classroom discussions and observations of others, students will learn to decipher the nonverbal communication of others and to become aware of their own body language. They will shadow individuals and prepare a presentation of the effective use of nonverbal communication in that person’s profession.

Landscapes of Memory: Race, Archival Research and Public Sociology (Dr. Rhiannon A. Leebrick, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology) – The purpose of this course is two-fold: introducing students to or building on their understanding of public memory as it relates to racism and landscapes; and teaching students how to do archival research. They will research Wofford’s past, present and future as they relate to place and commemoration with sensitivity and intention, and they will work with Luke A. Meagher, special collections librarian; Dr. Phillip Stone, college archivist and adjunct lecturer; and Brad Steinecke, assistant director of local history at the Spartanburg County Public Libraries, to explore the college archives and special collections and the Spartanburg Library archives for a deeper understanding of how hidden collections and archives can inform the public and shape landscapes of memory.

Furniture Design-Build (Michael D. Webster, assistant professor of studio art) – Students will learn the process of creating a custom piece of furniture from their own designs. They will learn the proper use of power saws, drills, sanders and shapers. They then will adopt a proven design thinking methodology for generative innovative ideas. By the end of the course, each student will have completed a unique, functional furniture project to take home.

Travel Writing as a Way of Seeing (Dr. Britton W. Newman, associate professor of Spanish, and Dr. Patrick N. Whitfill, assistant professor of English) – Students will practice the genre of travel writing and study its potential to offer a helpful lens for new experiences. In addition to creative writing techniques, they will learn about contemplative practices, the psychology and ethics of intergroup contact, methods for navigating situations of difference, and the relevance of the topics to a meaningful travel writing experience. The class will visit cultural sites in Spartanburg and surrounding areas and will take a daylong field trip to Atlanta to visit the BAPS Hindu temple and Global Mall, a shopping mall dedicated to South Asian specialty stores.

Personal Cartography (Dr. Kaye S. Savage, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Studies, and Jessica M. Scott-Felder, assistant professor of studio art) – Mapmaking is a joint venture of art and science that can be used imaginatively to explore personal stories and values. Students in the course will derive inspiration from both traditional and contemporary artistic examples to generate a series of maps that reveal their interests and personal journeys, both physical and mental.

Green Sewing: Sustainability and Fashion (Dr. Catherine L. Schmitz, associate professor of French, and Dr. Patricia G. Nuriel, associate professor of Spanish) – Apparel is easily the second biggest consumer sector after food, according to “Dress for Excess: The Cost of Our Clothing Addiction.” While we buy lots of clothes, the fashion industry produces a lot of clothes that aren’t all sold. What happens to them? They are disposed of. Students will look at the textile industry market, its excessive production and consumption of clothes and its ecological impacts on the environment. Then, students will learn how to sew by recycling and transforming previously made clothes.

Animal Cognition (Dr. Alliston K. Reid, Reeves Family Professor of Psychology) – This course will explore the ways in which animals of many species perceive the world, solve problems, remember events and locations, forage for food, communicate and interact socially with each other and with humans.

Fieldwork in Archaeology (Dr. Terry A. Ferguson, associate professor of environmental studies and senior researcher at the Goodall Environmental Studies Center, and Dr. Anna E. Harkey, adjunct lecturer in sociology and anthropology) – In this course, students will have try hands-on field archaeology, uncovering hidden evidence from hundreds of years of local history. Field work will take place at the Upper Glendale Shoals near Wofford’s Goodall Environmental Studies Center in Glendale, South Carolina. Studies will include late 18th century iron works and associated mills; the sites of skirmishes from the Revolutionary War; an old colonial road and associated house sites; an early 20th century trolley line and associated Glendale Park; and an early 20th century baseball field, where the textile mill baseball leagues once played.

You Said What? The Debate Interim (Dr. Kenneth J. Banks, associate professor of history) – Students will explore some of the important issues of biomedicine, social values and public policy with special attention to the methods of good argumentation. They will examine some famous historical debates and pay special attention to several basic techniques of formal debating, including public forum, Lincoln-Douglas and parliamentary styles.

The Truth is in Here: Conspiracy Theories in History, Politics and Culture (Dr. Peter K. Brewitt, assistant professor of environmental studies) – Students will explore the worlds of conspiracy theories past and present, local and worldwide, looking into the social and psychological reasons that people believe and examining the roots of well-known theories from aliens building the pyramids to the ancient machinations of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons to the 21st century phenomenon of “birthers.”

More than 200 students have elected to participate in internships, Interim coordinator Dr. A.K. Anderson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Religion, says. “More than 110 of those are in the Learning Work umbrella, initiating and obtaining their own approved internship with organizations of their choosing.”

The Learning Work internships include work at the South Carolina Court of Appeals, working with a psychiatrist in Germany, a veterinarian internship in Spain, providing health care to uninsured individuals in Kentucky, doing cancer research in Alabama, interning with former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in Iowa and doing marketing for the Charleston (S.C.) Symphony Orchestra.

Three students will intern at Yosemite National Park as part of the Public Policy internship program.

Professional internships include pre-law, pre-dentistry, clinical medical settings and the Capitol Hill internship program in Washington, D.C.

Students also may conduct approved independent study projects, such as researching post-9/11 literature, teaching school-age children in Ecuador, conducting an academic analysis of convention culture and conducting chemistry research on the presence of oxybenzone in personal care products.

Travel/study during Interim is always popular. Among the locations students will travel during Interim 2020 are Australia, Chile, China, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Palestine, Peru, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, United Kingdom and Vietnam.