In college, there’s an emphasis on attending fun parties, making best friends for life, and taking part in way more activities than can possibly fit into a schedule (“Guys, I know it meets at 4:00 in the morning at the bottom of the Freeman pool, but I HAVE to join Zarff, Wesleyan’s oldest club dedicated to the worship of our lizard overlords”). What college is really about, however, is putting those $200,000 to good use and earning that BA in Medieval Studies: an asset in the modern workforce. At the University, the completion of that degree rests upon the accumulation of 32 credits, which students earn by taking around 32 different classes. With some five hundred different courses available each semester, each Wesleyan student is guaranteed to have their own distinctive course load.
Although somewhat uncharacteristic of a typical liberal arts school, the University’s Natural Sciences & Mathematics (NSM) programs are quite popular among students. Courses in the Quantitative Analysis department are some of the most well-attended NSM classes, drawing both majors and non-majors alike. Freshman Olivia Dugan is one of those intrepid non-majors eager to learn some ever-relevant quantitative skills, and maybe knock off one of those Gen-Ed requirements as well.
Dugan, who plans on majoring in the College of Letters with a possible double major in government, says that while enjoyable, her Intro to Network Analysis class is one of the hardest she’s ever taken.
“It’s a class about statistical analysis and data science,” she said. “I have no experience with that, but I’m interested in the crossover with social influence….It’s interesting, but it’s kind of a steep learning curve if you don’t know anything about programming, because you need to know technical things, like coding, to use the software. I don’t really know that stuff,” she laughs.
Dugan confessed that she went in feeling a little behind.
“It’s an intro class, so it’s supposed to be starting at the beginning,” she said. “But the professor kind of assumes that people already know a little bit about it; most people in the class do. I think I’ll be able to keep up as long as go to the TA sessions.”
When asked what advice she would give to other people who might take the class, she stressed the importance of in-class participation. Her advice boiled down to one sentiment: Don’t be that person who uses class to watch cat videos or Facebook stalk an ex.
For those looking for a certificate in Applied Data Science, like Liza Kravchenko ’19, quantitative analysis courses are the gateway to a possible profession. Kravchenko says her favorite class was one she took first semester freshman year called “Digging in the Digital Era: A Data Science Primer.”
“It was a really interesting experience largely because I had never gotten to work with data in a hands-on way before,” she said. “I liked the course because it involved mining Twitter data, so it’s as current as current gets because [the data] only goes back 10 days. I actually got to visualize what I was working with and look at patterns that were happening in the world, [and] that interested me.”
Kravchenko insisted that no one should be afraid to take this course.
“Don’t be intimidated by the fact that all of this lingo is being thrown around, and that you have to learn a whole new language to use when you work with data or code,” she said. “Google is your friend.”
For those whose aversion to science rivals that of Sarah Palin, the University is also known for its humanities programs. Freshman Zoë Kaplan, a prospective English or COL major, can’t say enough about Professor Harris Friedberg’s Shakespeare class.
“I would recommend it if you’re interested in Shakespeare and/or English, but if you’re not then… better not,” she laughs.
Her advice to those who are not deterred by the complexities of reading Shakespeare is simple.
“Do your reading in advance,” she said. “Really enjoy the lectures and pay attention because the teacher gives a lot of good details and is really invested [in the material].”
“Sit in the front row,” a classmate chimes in. “You’ll thank us later.”
The best classes, according to Simon Korn ’17, are those that allow students to broaden their horizons and not deepen their existing opinions. Korn, an Economics and Government double major, found this in U.S. Foreign Policy, a class he took during the winter session of his sophomore year. He raves not only about the class, but about winter session as well.
“It was great because you’re only focusing on one class at a time,” he said. “Some people like that, some people don’t….I’m really into that because I can think about the same thing all day, and then go to sleep thinking about it, and then absorb it by the end of the two weeks that I’m taking the class.”
As far as what went on in class, Korn says it was a lot of play-acting.
“We did all sorts of really cool exercises in which we pretended to be the National Security Council, or some other governing body that’s deciding U.S. foreign policy,” Korn said. “It was a little Model UN-ish. We had really great discussions. Also, we had some people from the Veteran’s Posse in that class. They offered really interesting perspectives, because it’s about U.S. foreign policy and they implemented it around the world.”
In the end, these students agreed that classes are what truly what you make of them.