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Jan Term: An Enriching and Unique Experience for Saint Mary’s students

by President Richard Plumb | January 17, 2023

We're in the midst of Jan Term!

In an effort to do a deep dive about this uniquely Saint Mary’s program, I thought to myself, what better way to gain a personal appreciation for Jan Term than to attend and participate in a class or two? So that’s what I did. I sat in on associate professor Nancy Lam’s course Turning On the Light Bulb: Illuminating, Unleashing and Managing Creativity recently. And I hope to attend STEM Education for a More Just World later this month. Mary Raygoza and Vidya Chandrasekaran are serving as co-instructors for that upper division Jan Term course.

I quickly realized that Professor Lam is the ideal instructor to be teaching a course on creativity. She displayed an incredible amount of energy, joy, and yes, creativity in the class I attended, and I can only imagine how much her students appreciate her enthusiastic style of teaching. Our School of Economics and Business Administration is lucky to have her.


Professor Nancy Lam speaking to her JAN 101 - Turning On the Light Bulb: Illuminating, Unleashing and Managing Creativity course. On the screen behind her is a slide titled "Idea Generation Techniques"

Creative work: Nancy Lam leads her Jan Term course. Credit: Francis Tatem


The class itself was fascinating! Creativity is something needed and valued in so many aspects of life, including higher education, yet it’s rarely discussed in an academic context. This particular class session examined cognitive approaches to creativity, how the mind works to generate creative ideas, and related themes. At one point early on, I was happy to hear Professor Lam point out how napping and daydreaming can actually be beneficial for one’s creative output!

Her teaching style is one that clearly values class participation and hands-on engagement. She introduced a few exercises that had everyone contributing and offering ideas. For instance, she threw out a word and had us all do a word association sketch of sorts, in an effort to get us thinking about ways that different concepts or objects are more interrelated than we might assume. 

Richard Plumb in a Jan Term course

Sitting in on the class with students, it’s wonderful to see them flex their creative muscles. Credit: Francis Tatem


Later, she talked about the SCAMPER method—Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. SCAMPER is a technique that helps to solve problems, create new products, or expand our creative thinking, and it was fun watching the students get immersed in the exercise and flex their creative muscles.

Turning On the Light Bulb and STEM Education for a More Just World are just two of many Jan Term courses Saint Mary’s is offering this month, of course. And the study abroad options bring a whole new flavor to the endeavor. It’s an aspect of Jan Term we’re especially proud of, since preparing our students for global futures is a big part of our educational mission.

We’re working to develop students who will be part of the world that author Thomas Friedman famously called “flat,” a world that is vast yet very much interconnected due to incredible technological advances over the past few decades. 

In our drive to educate students who will be a part of that flat world, the faculty and senior leadership here at Saint Mary’s recognize that we’re living in a global economy—a global society. Our curricula should always take into account the global aspects of every academic discipline.

Jan Term, especially those courses taking place abroad, helps us to achieve that goal. Think about it: many of our Gael students are currently in various places all over the world! To cite just two examples, some students are learning all about the history, culture, and land environments in Sri Lanka, while others are studying art, architecture, and historical aspects of Spain. It’s no wonder so many of our students mention Jan Term as one of their favorite aspects of the Saint Mary’s experience.

Gael students in Sri Lanka

Culture and Coral Reefs in Sri Lanka is a Jan Term course being taught this month by Biology Professor Carla Bossard. Courtesy Carla Bossard


Our students will almost certainly need to understand cultures different from our own if they’re going to achieve success. As educators, we’d be doing them a disservice if we didn’t offer them those kinds of hands-on opportunities. 

Studying abroad gives our students opportunities to learn ways of thinking and different approaches that may be new to them. Taking that learning and applying it to their studies can only help them and the organizations for whom they eventually work.

I’m proud of everyone at Saint Mary’s associated with Jan Term. It’s one of our signature programs, and for so many students one of the defining and most memorable experiences here at the College. I look forward to attending other Jan Term courses in the future!