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How J-term classes impact the student experience

During January term, Augustana students take a break from their 15-week semester schedule to engage in a month-long period of intensive learning.

Students take one class for three hours a day, five days a week. It’s a change of pace that allows them to take classes outside their major, a deep dive into one subject area or a short-term study away.

Cavit Schempp

Cavit Schempp  '24

Holding class in the Mojave Desert

Cavit Schempp  ’24, a geology and accounting double major from Atlanta, Ill., traveled to the American Southwest during his J-term class with Dr. Jeffery Strasser and Dr. Jenny Arkle. The “Mojave Geology” class, composed of students from all grades and skill levels, gained hands-on field experience using standard geological field equipment in the Mojave Desert.

After an early breakfast, Schempp and his classmates would drive to the geology site of the day to write observations and collect evidence in their field books. Days were full of hiking and learning in stunning natural rock formations.

“A day of thinking on both micro and macro scales and over thousands to billions of years got us ready for a night of rest,” Schempp said.

His favorite experience? Getting to hike distances upwards of 1,198 feet in elevation change — a little taller than the Eiffel Tower!

For Schempp, “Mojave Geology” was an amazing opportunity to use what he had learned in classes and apply it in the field. “This course will push you both mentally and physically,” he noted, “but you come out learning more than you could have imagined!”


Americus Mahatshahi  ’24 (front, center)

Seeing the world through others’ eyes 

A pre-med and anthropology double major, Americus Mahatshahi  ’24 from Kathmandu, Nepal, took “Intro to Sociology” with Dr. Paul Croll as part of her major. 

The class explored topics spanning many disciplines, with a focus on human behavior, society and social change. Students were given a “magic wand” and asked to conceive solutions to some of society’s most complicated challenges such as mass incarceration and access to education and health care. Then they examined how their own life experiences influence their views on the challenges and possible solutions.

Mahatshahi’s favorite part about the class? The connections.

"Dr. Croll encouraged us to interact with each other to the point where we knew everyone in class,” she said. “Occasionally he would lecture and show us documentaries, but it was mostly active learning through discussions and group work and some research.”

Thinking about topics from a sociological perspective and from other students’ points of view helped Mahatshahi see issues in a broader context. “I believe students in any major will think about how much of an impact they make in society after taking this class,” she said.

Aiden Gomez

Left to right, Graham Hunt '25, Beth Ford and Aiden Gomez '26

Finding a second family 3,000 miles from home

Aiden Gomez  ’26 from Chicago, Ill., studied environmental justice in Ecuador for his J-term class with Dr. Mariano Magalhães. Students in “Special Topics in Latin American Studies” studied in Cuenca, Ecuador's third largest city, at the Center for Inter-American Studies. 

While the on-campus coursework and field trips around Cuenca were valuable, Gomez found his experience with his host family to be just as impactful. 

“In a matter of 10 days, it felt like I had made a second family because of how close me and my host family got along, from morning conversation with my host mom and dad to church on Saturday to meeting their extended family,” Gomez said. “Coming from a Latino household, I found myself trying and learning new things in a different Latina household that I would’ve never learned if I hadn't gone abroad.”

To Gomez, the ability to see new perspectives — from the difference between Spanish dialects to environmental concerns abroad — was “life-changing.” 

“Traveling to another country with people of all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicity was also really fun,” he said, “especially because everyone brings something new to the table.”

Lexie Seten

Lexie Seten '26

Analyzing how wars are depicted in films

In “American Film History & Theory” with Dr. Lendol Calder, Lexie Seten  ’26 from Champaign, Ill., took a closer look at the United States’ history with war by analyzing movies. 

The class watched 17 movies during the J-term class. For each one, students read an article about that war and then completed a specific task, which ranged from contextualizing the film to creating an illustration that compared the article with what was depicted on screen.

Seten learned about not only the history of U.S. wars, but also filmmaking. “One of my favorite films was ‘1917,’ not only for the story but for the style of the film as well,” she said. “We spent a lot of time discussing the ‘one long shot’ aspect that the movie tried to achieve and how well it reached its goal.”

It was not a class Seten typically would take as a kinesiology major on the pre-physician assistant track, but it was one that was both informative and entertaining — the perfect mix for a J-term class.

By Genevieve Ryan '26

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