Winter break is all anyone thinks about from the time midterms are assigned. How many weeks left? When should I buy my ticket home? Finals are due when?! Such phrases run rampant through a busy student’s mind as they push through the semester with their eyes on the prize—mid-December. The semester break is a treat to students everywhere who find themselves on the grind from late August to the time New York storefronts begin decking the halls for the holidays. When The New School announced that they were offering a winter intensive during the semester break, I thought anyone in their right mind would be crazy to embark on that totally unnecessary academic journey. Then, a wall of boredom hit me about a week into the break and I scrambled to find a seat on a waitlist in order to pick up some credits I needed anyway!
This winter break was the first time that The New School offered a small selection of winter courses to students looking to catch up on credits they might have not been able to fit into their Fall schedules due to the pandemic. About thirty courses were open for enrollment from January 4-15. Each course met every day of the January term, which meant students had no choice but to commit to their subject. From design studios at Parsons, to lecture series at the Schools of Public Engagement, the term’s offerings ran the gamut.
I am a junior at Lang in the Literary Studies program who took part in the Culinary Luminaries course. It was based off of a lecture series that the Food Studies program held about ten years ago. Each day of the intensive we learned about a different chef, cook or writer who significantly contributed to the American culinary industry—like Julia Child, James Beard, and Edna Lewis (the mother of Southern cuisine). We got to listen to some amazing panelists speak about their experiences with these influential figures—my favorite panelist was Judith Jones, the publisher at Knopf who brought a number of important American cookbooks to life.
As someone who is interested in working in the food industry, I jumped at the opportunity to register for the course, but initially, I wasn’t excited by the idea of doing classwork during her break. I wanted to give myself a time off from school to relax so I wasn’t interested in the Winter Intensive when it was first announced back in August. Then, once boredom hit during the second week of the break, I decided to check out the term’s offerings. I saw the Culinary Luminaries course on the list and landed a spot on the waitlist about a week before it began. It is obviously super nice of The New School to offer three full credits to students at no additional cost, but the course did end up being more work than I anticipated. My interest in the subject is what motivated me to stay in the class.
I spent about three to four hours a day on coursework. The class never met on Zoom so we were able to work at our own pace. I really liked getting to converse with students from across the university about a subject most of us found interesting. (Most of them came from the Food Studies department which is part of the Adult Bachelor’s Program.) I had never been in a classroom with students from so many different programs so the idea of fresh and new collaborations was a treat during these monotonous times.
Our final task was to identify a luminary in the culinary industry that was not covered in the class and write a twelve-page paper on their life and career. I chose to write my paper on Jeremiah Tower—a chef who transformed the way American diners eat out at restaurants Chez Panisse and Stars. Personally, the twelve-page minimum came as a surprise since the course only lasted ten days, but it was considered an “intensive” and three free credits were up for grabs. If The New School works the J-Term into the academic calendar on a yearly basis, know that you’re in for a load of work.
The New School is as unorthodox as universities come (which is what drew me to the school when I began the college search), so I was surprised when they announced the Winter Intensive courses that were similar to other American universities’ January term classes. Taking part in the Culinary Luminaries class proved to be a productive use of my time—I’m taking Introduction to Food Studies this semester and am grateful for my foundational knowledge of all the greats who shaped the industry. Breaks should be centered around rest, but if the opportunity to expand your academic interests, I say you should hop on it. You never know when the material will serve you when regularly-scheduled classes return!