When the academic year begins at Mercyhurst University on Sept. 4, it will usher in a historic change – a 4-1-4 semester system. In transitioning from the long established trimester, the new academic calendar holds the promise of enhanced choices and opportunities for Mercyhurst students, particularly in the area of experiential learning, long the cornerstone of a Mercyhurst education.
Historically, Mercyhurst’s calendar has featured three 10-week terms during the September-May academic year. The new 4-1-4 configuration includes two 14-week semesters separated by a January term. The J-Term provides for intensely focused internships, study abroad opportunities, research initiatives and more concentrated classes where students can learn in depth a particular problem, question, issue or skill.
“One of the most important aspects of our recent transition from a college to a university is positioning ourselves in the highly competitive educational marketplace,” notes Mercyhurst President Thomas J. Gamble, Ph.D. “This more conventional calendar helps us promote ourselves as a university that offers a great combination of classic liberal arts and hands-on, engaged learning.”
The academic calendar conversation began in 2007, ultimately resulting in an extensive collaboration among faculty, staff and students. Among the advantages of the 4-1-4 structure is that it brings Mercyhurst’s calendar in line with the academic calendars of the vast majority of the country’s colleges and universities, making it easier to coordinate athletic schedules, student transfers, study abroad and service-learning trips.
The new calendar provides for shorter classes. Under the new system, MWF classes run for 65 minutes and T-TH classes for 100 minutes. Previously, Mercyhurst classes were 90 and 130 minutes, respectively.
“I think the semesters will allow for students to learn at a more relaxed pace, instead of being so rushed,” said senior forensic anthropology major Dylan Russ. “Plus, I think the J-Term will be real interesting.”
“I think it will be a change that everyone will have to get used to, but as a science major, I look forward to having 14 weeks to learn a subject rather than 10,” said Shauna Novobilsky, a senior biochemistry major.
And, from the faculty perspective, Joanne McGurk, president of Mercyhurst Faculty Senate, offered the following: “The 14-week semester offers enhancements to the faculty-student relationship that Mercyhurst is already known for. With each course augmented by four weeks, faculty and students can engage more meaningfully, for example, in research projects or in exploration of the important and interesting aspects of course content that a 10-week course seemed never to allow for. And because each class meeting is shortened by nearly 30 minutes, that allows for more time in a day for faculty and students individually and together to get absorbed in the big ideas as well as practices of the course content. Add to that the J-term possibilities — creative courses outside the regular curriculum, study abroad experiences, intensive experiential opportunities — and Mercyhurst students and faculty have the best of both worlds.”
The 4-1-4 plan also provides for a more realistic schedule of breaks and facilitates a more cohesive learning experience. Under the trimester, the two-week Christmas break interrupted winter term and spring break fell much earlier than that of most other colleges and universities.
The J-Term allows Mercyhurst to more fully support its commitment to providing all students with hands-on learning opportunities. This “application” of knowledge, while an emergent trend in higher education, has distinguished a Mercyhurst education for many years. Further, many top-ranked universities have adopted the J-Term, among them New York University, Harvard and the University of Virginia.
Gamble said the administration has given the North East campus flexibility in applying the calendar to its unique student population, although it, too, will adopt a calendar consistent with that of the Erie campus.