From The Archives: Facing the needs of the times

How J-Term created transformative learning experiences to help students excel in a world marked by change

“The College will continue to merit a reputation as a place that faces the needs of the times.”
Basil L. Crapster
former Gettysburg College dean
and professor of history

In 1969, Crapster concluded the spring edition of the alumni newsletter, The Gettysburg Bulletin, with these words. As it had done generations before and continues to do so today, Gettysburg College was implementing a new approach to learning to help students gain the requisite knowledge and enduring skills they would need to excel in a world marked by change.

During the 1969-1970 academic year, the College reimagined its curriculum into a 4-1-4 system, establishing a four-week January Term (J-Term) between the traditional fall and spring sessions. The new setup opened the door for expanded opportunities for student learning, allowing them to take courses for credit to refine academic and professional skills. J-Term also allowed increased faculty collaboration through interdisciplinary courses, which was difficult to achieve during the fall and spring due to the demands of teaching multiple classes. It was a time for transformative experiences and personal growth for students and faculty alike.

Students learned how to treat and interact with patients
Students learned how to treat and interact with patients at local medical facilities
Students lookingk at the latest edition of the Gettysburg Times in 1979
Hot off the presses! Students get the first look at the latest edition of the Gettysburg Times in 1979

From 1970 through 1985, students chose from more than 100 J-Term offerings, covering the breadth of the academic curriculum. They ranged from Aerospace Studies—in which students could log flight time and earn a pilot’s license—to more traditional classroom experiences like Topics in the Foundation of Mathematics. Every weekday inside Bowen Auditorium in McCreary Hall, J-Term featured a popular lecture series on subjects ranging from the Constitution with Political Science Prof. Emeritus Ken Mott to poetry with English Prof. Janet Gemmill, the first J-Term director.

Of note, Gettysburg’s study abroad program was also born during this time, with students and faculty studying Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon in England, snorkeling among coral reefs in Whalebone Bay in Bermuda, learning Greek history in the shadow of the Parthenon in Athens, and embarking on other adventures around the globe in Chile, France, Italy, Mexico, and Russia. Plus, with career preparation a significant aspect of J-Term, Career Services (now the Center for Career Engagement) and Counseling Services held a series of training sessions and helped students secure internships at local businesses and organizations, including the Harrisburg State Hospital, Knouse Foods, Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Gettysburg Times.

Local businesses hosted students for internship experiences
Local businesses like Knouse Foods hosted students for internship experiences during J-Term.
Students studying tropical marine biology
Working at the Bermuda Biological Station, students studied tropical marine biology and snorkeled in Whale Bone Bay.
Students lookingk at the latest edition of the Gettysburg Times in 1979
Students translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on a chalkboard in 1979.

After the College reinstalled a traditional two-semester schedule in 1986, J-Term returned in 2021 as the College sought new ways to combat the interruptions to learning wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The College also added a virtual Alumni J-Term in 2024 for Gettysburgians to continue growing as lifelong learners. While today’s version of J-Term is not for credit and primarily takes place virtually, its intent mirrors that of its predecessor as a time of exploration for students and alumni to grow the knowledge and enduring skills that will help them make the most of their liberal arts and sciences education and lead successful lives after graduation.

by Corey Jewart
Posted: 02/26/24

More stories