Graduate students in five online programs came together on the Gratz campus in July for an intensive, week-long summer institute.
Gratz Opens Campus to Summer Institute
Most Gratz students who attended the on-campus summer institute in mid-July had already experienced the proverbial meeting of the minds.
But because Gratz’s graduate programs are primarily online, the week-long intensive institute offered something students don’t get during the academic year: face-to-face interaction. For some, the institute served as a reunion. For others, including the first cohort of Ph.D. students in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies program, the institute marked the first time all of the students were physically in the same room.
“It has been exciting to pursue our learning passions in classes and to support each other online,” said Emily Bengels, a teacher in New Jersey who just finished her first year in the Ph.D. program. “However, meeting one another and having face-to-face conversations and debates has been stimulating in a more intense way.”
Bengels compared the online learning experience to individual sailboats on the ocean. Although students received support from the college and professors, much of the studying happened alone.
“Sticking to the ocean analogy, the week on campus brought us all together on a cruise ship,” Bengels said. “After learning and creating together, we can go back to our sailboats with more direction and guidance for the coming year.”
The institute drew 75 students in five graduate programs: the master’s programs in education, nonprofit management and Holocaust and Genocide Studies; the Ed.D. program and the Ph.D. Students came from all over the country—and beyond, said Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College.
Gratz prepares all year for the influx of students during the summer institute, Finkelman said. Faculty and staff look forward to hosting students they have only met by phone or in online forums.
“There’s activity on campus all year long, with classes, lectures, conferences and events for all ages,” Finkelman said. “But we look forward to the buzz of having our graduate students here. It’s one of the highlights of the year.”
Ph.D. students in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies program took courses in doctoral research and writing during the week-long summer institute on campus.
The summer institute is more than just creating a space for in-person learning, however. Bringing students together for a summer residency enhances online graduate programs, Finkelman said.
“Online learning is incredibly valuable because it allows people to live anywhere and still engage in the studies of their choice,” he said. “But a residency adds another important dimension to these programs. Gratz is still a brick-and-mortar institution, and academia can’t be completely virtual. The human interaction is sometimes as important as the coursework.”
Elana Gootson is working on the capstone project for a master’s degree in nonprofit management. This summer’s institute marked the third time she traveled to campus from her home in Florida.
“Although there are always things to learn online, a lot of the networking and practical skills come from meeting each other in person,” she said. “This year, we learned so much just sitting around and talking to each other outside of class, sharing the challenges we face and the solutions we have found.” ■