For 55 years, Wofford students and faculty have pushed the boundaries of what’s considered a traditional academic experience with Interim. The original Interim proposal was designed to give “both teacher and student the liberty to explore, to experiment, to try new approaches, and in doing so to run risks that cannot be run during the regular semester when the emphasis is different. … The Interim program has as its keynote innovation and experiment.”
That still happens today, and these stories of Interim 2023 share that spirit.
A TRAVEL/STUDY STORY
Interim trip to Nicaragua leads to personal growth
By Robert Dalton
Kennedy Smith ’23 suffers so badly from claustrophobia that she once walked up 15 flights of stairs to avoid a 30-second elevator ride.
On an Interim trip to Nicaragua, Smith was able to confront her fear. Smith was one of 20 students who accompanied Dr. Katherine Valde, assistant professor of philosophy, and Dr. Jennifer Bradham, assistant professor of environmental studies, for the tropical ecology and yoga course.
One of the features of the course was a temazcal ceremony, a 35-minute adventure that takes place in a small space and includes pouring water over extremely hot rocks to produce a thick cloud of steam. Smith says she started to panic as soon as the door closed.
“That’s pretty typical for me,” says Smith, a finance major from Huntersville, N.C. “But I was able to overcome it by taking cooling breaths, by centering myself and with the support of the group. Dr. Bradham was right beside me telling me I was going to be OK.”
Smith says the experience gave her a new attitude, and she no longer fears those elevator rides.
“I came out of that feeling that a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and knowing I was capable of more than I thought I was,” she says. “Knowing I can do it has given me the ability to combat the anxiety that I typically have had.”
Valde says that’s the kind of transformative experience she and Bradham intended for the course, which was offered for the first time this year. They wanted to give students the opportunity to develop the skills needed to decompress from and cope with academic rigor in healthy ways.
The goal of the course was to teach students to be mindful of how their lives connect to the natural world. Along the way, they participated in a jungle hike in a nature preserve, toured an active volcano, did yoga every day in the open air and assisted in releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean.
“I love teaching, and I love interacting with students, and I have never gotten to be a part of so much personal growth for students,” Valde says. “Just to see them face their fears and grow and change was really rewarding. And it was different for every student.”
For Jack Stomberger ’23, the trip was a way to recover from the fall semester and dive into his final weeks at Wofford with a renewed vigor. A biology major on the pre-medical track from Danville, Ky., Stomberger says he took the Interim because he was looking for a way to deal with stress, both now and when he’s in medical school.
“I wanted to come into the start of this year strong and feeling good about myself,” he says. “This course started me off on a healthy-living journey, and I’ve never felt better about myself. That’s pushed me to want to continue that type of lifestyle.”
A STORY FROM CAMPUS
Interim focuses on the history of handwritten letters
By Brandi Wylie ’24
Weeks before Interim started, Dr. Trina Jones, professor of religion and chair of the Wofford College Department of Religion, sent each of her students a handwritten letter.
This letter was written on vintage Wofford stationery, gifted to her by the family of the late Rev. Dr. Charlie Barrett ’55, who taught in the religion department for 33 years.
She wrote to the students as a way of getting them excited about the class and ready to learn more about the “lost art of letter writing.”
“I want the students to walk away with an appreciation for the history of letter writing and an awareness of their own interactions with different forms of communication,” Jones says.
Jones’ appreciation for letter writing started during the pandemic, when she joined numerous pen pal groups to communicate with people across the world.
Several leaders of these pen pal groups and organizations were able to speak to the Interim class over Zoom during their first couple of weeks in the course.
Murphy Thornton ’24, a sociology and anthropology major from Charleston, S.C., said that she enjoyed the speakers because of their passion for their work and about letters in general.
“They really taught me to keep being excited in what you want to do and what you enjoy,” Thornton says. “Your excitement will get others excited.”
Other aspects of the coursework were more interactive, such as a calligraphy lesson from Stephanie Elmerick, owner of Sip and Script in Spartanburg.
Bailey Edwards ’23 is a psychology major and studio art minor from Charleston, S.C., and she found particular interest in the art of calligraphy, mastering the craft after only one day of practice.
“As a studio art minor, I like things that are aesthetically pleasing,” Edwards says. “I have really terrible handwriting, so when I do the calligraphy, it’s all aligned, and I do it slowly so it can be perfectly spaced.”
Jones sees a more sentimental side to the craft as well.
Dr. Daniel Welch, professor of physics at Wofford, died in 2020. Dr. Steven Zides, senior instructor of physics, and Dr. Charlotte Knotts-Zides, professor of mathematics, found fountain pens in his office from his previous Interim course on calligraphy. They gifted them to Jones.
There were enough pens to give each student two and still have enough to distribute to a future course as well.
The course is being planned again for Interim 2025. It could expand into a study abroad Interim to England, where there is a long and rich history of letter writing.
A STORY OF CREATIVE EXPRESSION
Wofford Pulp Theatre produces ‘The Rocky Horror Show’
By Brandi Wylie ’24
Wofford’s student-led Pulp Theatre Interim performed the college’s first musical in more than seven years when it staged “The Rocky Horror Show.”
Hailie Gold ’23, a theatre and English double major from Greenville, S.C., directed the production.
“We get here (for rehearsal) at 10 a.m. and don’t leave until 6 p.m.,” Gold says. “Sometimes we will come in after hours to hang curtains, paint floors, repaint floors — do anything we can to get the show ready.”
Initially, Gold was hesitant to bring a musical to the stage because she had not been involved with musical theatre since high school and knew it would be different and harder, especially for a production that had to be complete in three weeks.
Despite this, she says Rachel Johnson ’24, a theatre major from Spartanburg, S.C., encouraged the idea and served as the music director.
The show told the classic story of Frank-N-Furter, a sweet cross-dresser played by Ryan Poole ’24, an English major from Charleston, S.C.
Kimi Crouch ’26, a biology and theatre double major from Clemmons, N.C., played Janet Weiss, and says this show differs from shows in the past because it is entirely student led.
“This show and this process have been extra special because students have built it from scratch,” Crouch says.
The 29 students in the course compose the largest cast and crew that Wofford has seen in recent history.
A STORY OF SELF-DISCOVERY
One journey, three experiences
When the Interim committee met to review student research proposals, they were particularly pleased with how Kinsley Marsh ’23, Mackenzie Syiem ’23 and Brady Wolfe ’23 planned their experience in India with learning outcomes in mind. Before the three traveled and stayed together, they had each developed independent projects based on their personal strengths and interests. According to Dr. Trina Jones, chair of the Department of Religion and their project advisor, “Their overall project idea struck me as an example of both an ideal Interim project and a culminating experience in the liberal arts. It brought together four years of college experience and synthesized it, allowed for reflection, and set the stage for a lifetime of continued learning.” Below are excerpts from Syiem’s and Wolfe’s reflections from the experience.
Sharing my home country
BY MACKENZIE SYIEM ’23
Bringing your friends home is a college experience that international students don’t usually get to have. But if there is one thing I’ve learned during my four years at Wofford, it’s that there are very few dreams I can’t turn into reality.
The seed was first planted my first year at Wofford when I was training to be an admission ambassador and heard the counselor mention interesting Interim projects past students had created themselves. I want to do that, I remember thinking. I will do that, I decided. This was perhaps Wofford’s motto in action: Where thought leads.
For me, thoughts at Wofford have led to an entire year of studying abroad in Granada, Spain and London; starting a business during the height of the pandemic; and interning with several departments on campus. Now, in my final year, thoughts and planning led to the opportunity of reconnecting with my roots in India for Interim.
Our independent study project came together efficiently and organically. We’ve been friends throughout college, so I knew Brady and Kinsley were both interested in exploring my home country and its unique Northeast Indian culture. Brady had previously worked and studied with Dr. Jones.Jones’ research areas include South Asian religions, so she was a natural choice to be our faculty sponsor as we built a robust cultural program that focused on studying the lore and myths of the Khasi tribe.
We visited historical sites in Delhi, such as Humayun’s Tomb and the Lotus Temple, and heritage sites in Meghalaya like U Lum Sohpetbneng and Nohkalikai waterfall. We traveled to Assam, a neighboring state, and explored Kaziranga National Park.
What started out as a seed of an idea in my first year grew to become an unforgettable experience that was as supported by Wofford as the living root bridges we explored in India. Our independent Interim was a perfect culmination of my Wofford journey that brought together my academic and career interests and my community and culture. I am grateful to every person that made it possible and want future Terriers to know that they can take ownership of their Wofford experience and shape it into whatever they can imagine.
Religious thoughts far from home
BY BRADY WOLFE ’23
In the many religion classes that I have taken at Wofford, I’ve come to understand that “religion” entails so much more than what most people conceive of it. I’ve learned that people can experience the same amount of bewilderment, joy and transcendence outside of a religious system that they can from within. My recent experiences traveling in India have shown me firsthand this truth.
In India, I was able to see many wonderful and ancient sites. We saw the ornate beauty of the Taj Mahal and the sheer scale of the Qutb Minar and experienced the Khasi Hills with acoustic waterfalls and megalithic boulders. These sites made me feel so small but also invited me to become a part of something much bigger than myself — something of transcendent scale.
To me, these experiences are akin to the many “more important” moments of one’s spiritual journey. Maybe the Taj is one’s baptism, the Qutb Minar is their confirmation and the many nature sites make up their once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. These experiences are foundational and meaningful to religious folks, but they are not the sum total of their religious life. A spiritual journey does not contain just the Instagram-worthy snapshots. It contains the mundane experiences of daily life: a memorized, repeated prayer before bed; a moment of silence and a deep breath before a stressful exam; stating “everything happens for a reason” when nervous about a life-altering experience. These moments are not written into the schedule of one’s religious journey, and they do not require special training to complete. They are mundane, uninspiring, unglamorous and profoundly religious.
I experienced many mundanely religious moments while in India: a sense of contentment and safety when entering the Syiems’ residence after a long day of exploring, an eye-averting fear from my travels on Indian roads, an overwhelming mix of emotions while trying an array of Indian food. These small moments have taught me profoundly religious lessons. Though I was more spiritually fulfilled from the picturesque and tourist-focused experiences that I had, my spiritual journey was still substantially impacted by these little moments. Just as someone more readily remembers their baptism over the prayer they stated before their last meal, these little moments will most likely fade from my brain in favor of the Taj, the Qutb Minar and the Khasi religious sites. However, I recognize the mundane, and I would like to thank it for enriching my travels, my experiences, my emotions and my spiritual journey.