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More than 2,700 students enrolled in largest winter session to date

A student walks on campus after it snowed on Dec. 9. While classes for the spring semester won't begin until Jan. 22, students are on campus in early January for winter session courses.

The 2019 winter session residential classes open this week with more than 2,700 students enrolled in 167 courses. This represents the largest number of enrollments since winter session first launched in 2014, with an increase of more than 500 from last year’s winter session.

Now in its sixth year, winter session offers classes online, on-campus, and through an abroad experience at both the international and domestic levels. The session began on Dec. 26 with online, blended, and experience (abroad courses) and will conclude with exams on Jan. 19.

“I wish I had known about winter courses ahead of time because as a freshman and sophomore, this would have been a great opportunity, especially to get ahead in my major,” said Sylvie Job, a senior majoring in human resource management in the Pamplin College of Business.

The Lynchburg, Virginia, native already has a job secured after graduating in May 2019 as an associate consultant with Beacon Hill Staffing Group in New York City.

During the three-week session, students have the opportunity to create their own winter academic experiences. More and more faculty are also using this time to offer a course that they may not be able to offer during the spring and fall semesters.

Take for example Arian Korkuti, senior graduate teaching assistant in the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, who will be leading students on a winter domestic travel class to look at the practice of architecture through a selection of built and under construction works in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C. Students will also visit several architectural firms in New York City, with the course’s focus mainly on the most relevant and recent works of architecture.

Offered for the first time in winter session, this course has generated great interest.

"Not only is this travel program an opportunity but also an obligation towards students and their direct contact with the works of architecture,” Korkuti said. “In doing so, students observe the many aspects of architecture and the urban condition within which it exists.”

The format of the course also lends itself to a cross section of students, including architecture undergraduate and graduate students, in addition to a visiting international student of finance interested in architecture and urban studies.

While Korkuti will be traveling with his students, Donna Wertalik, associate professor of practice in the Department of Marketing, will be engaging with her students through an online dialogue in her marketing management class this winter. 

“Professor Wertalik provided very interesting and engaging video lectures that related to real-life situations that were relatable to students,” Job said. It was important to establish a sense of connectedness from the beginning, Job added, recalling Wertalik asking the class to introduce each other via a Canvas discussion post. “This was a quick and fun way to get to know the other students enrolled in the course, and it was fun to hear other people's winter break plans.”

Winter session online classes are especially valuable when students are traveling or not at one location during the three weeks. "I was in the airport traveling to Michigan for part of my break and was able to successfully access the course wherever I was. It was something fun to do while waiting for my flights,” Job said. Wertalik also made herself accessible to students by hosting online office hours and providing timely responses to emails and questions. 

Daniel Pillis, research assistant professor, and Tanner Upthegrove, lab research coordinator, with the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology will co-teach an Honors College course titled, “Immersive Virtual Environment for Art, Data, and Research” in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center for the third consecutive year. 

Winter session is the only time of the year that a course is taught solely in the Cube, giving it greater appeal to students who want to interface with the facility’s technology, including motion capture, virtual reality, immersive projection, and spatial audio.

For Leslie Blustein, majoring in computer science in the College of Engineering, the exposure to the virtual reality technology proved to be a game changer during last year’s winter session. After working this past summer on the Bing team of Microsoft, she has now landed a place on the Microsoft HoloLens team for summer 2019. “It is next to impossible to end up on this team even as a full-time employee, let alone as an intern," Blustein said. "The experience that I received from the class was positively invaluable to making it on the team.”