The Joy of One Course At A Time

By Dee Ann Rexroat '82

During a New Student Orientation activity last fall, small groups of first-year students answered trivia questions on their way downtown for a community event called Viva Mount Vernon. One response made me smile.

"What does the abbreviation 'Old Sem' stand for?" I asked.

"Old Semester?" a student answered tentatively.

Well. It has been 33 years since One Course At A Time replaced Cornell's semester system, which was before these students were born. For many of them, One Course At A Time was a major factor in their decision to attend Cornell. And while the nickname of the original campus building, Old Sem, is short for Iowa Conference Seminary (Cornell's name from 1853–1857), it is not hard to imagine how new students might connect this phrase with a different point in college history.

Faculty voted for One Course At A Time in 1978, and since then have taught courses in intense three-and-a-half-week terms, followed by four-day block breaks. It is what makes Cornell nearly unique in higher education.

And yet—as the saying goes—the more things change, the more they stay the same. In the end, One Course At A Time is a delivery method for the same rigorous liberal arts curriculum Cornell has offered for generations. Cornell alumni, pre- or post-One Course At A Time, experienced a transformational education.

On the following pages are brief articles by six faculty members in divergent fields, describing how they teach differently because of the One Course At A Time calendar. The first article, by Professor Emeritus Richard Peterson, describes some of the similarities before and after One Course At A Time. In the end, he writes "One Course At A Time was another way to package what we had always done."

One Course At A Time: Another approach to what we've always done
Richard Peterson, Professor Emeritus, Sociology

Can't imagine teaching on semesters again
David Yamanishi, Associate Professor of Politics

One Course At A Time ensures experiential learning
Melinda A. Green, Associate Professor of Psychology

Guest artists are the norm
Scott Olinger, Associate Professor of Theatre

One Course At A Time intensity fosters language learning
Devan Baty, Associate Professor of French

One Course At A Time is ideal for field trips, research
Emily Walsh, Associate Professor of Geology