Yale-NUS to offer electives in the spring

As Yale-NUS students wrap up the four required core classes for their first semester, they are looking ahead to the spring semester, when they will have one free slot to fill with an elective of their choice.

Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn announced to students this week that they will be able to have their expressed first choice out of ten elective classes that will be offered next semester. Students can also choose to fill the elective spot with a language course, and prospective science majors are required to take an integrated science course.

“It seems like the students are distributing themselves [in their choices] in the way we had hoped for,” Bailyn said. “But I had all kind[s] of nightmare scenarios.”

Bailyn said he was initially worried that some classes would receive too much interest, and that others would not receive enough interest — but he found that this was not the case, after students began talking about their preferences. Because of the diversity of students’ current prospective choices, each elective class will have roughly 10 students, Bailyn said. The one exception to the 10-student average is the integrated science class, which will have 40 students and five faculty members teaching it.

Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said he is pleased with the variety of interest, but added that some subjects, such as Mandarin Chinese, art history, economics, environmental studies and urban studies have proved particularly popular. He said the last two will offer Yale-NUS students a unique experience because of the school’s setting.

“We figured that they would both be very good subjects to teach in Singapore — we are in a unique region in terms of biodiversity, and Singapore also has a very good record of caring for the environment,” Lewis said.

But Yale-NUS professor Anju Paul, who will co-teach the urban studies class entitled “Divided Cities,” said the course will focus on different social divisions in cities across the globe. Although Singapore will appear several times, she said, the country will not be the main focus of the class. Though “Divided Cities” is a gateway course for urban studies and anthropology majors, Paul said she hopes that students from various academic concentrations will enroll in order to fuel class discussion with different perspectives.

Zach Mahon, a Yale-NUS student who chose Mandarin Chinese as his elective next semester, said that students are generally exploring different areas of interest and do not feel the pressure to pick a major right now. He said that he will try to experiment as much as possible before setting down on any one path.

But Adrian Stymne, a Yale-NUS student who chose to take the integrated science course next semester, said that though students might not be anxious about choosing a major yet, they may also be wary of venturing out too far.

“This is the first semester that we [will] have a choice, so people will be a little careful,” he said. “I think people will look inside their comfort zones rather than outside, and look for things that they might really be interested in pursuing.”

Shaffique Adam, the Yale-NUS professor who will coordinate the integrated science course, said he told his advisees to use this opportunity to enroll in something very far from their prospective studies. But he said that students who want to major in the sciences are in a different situation, as they are required to take the science course this semester.

The integrated science course will take an interdisciplinary approach, Adam said, as it will be taught by five different professors who will each contribute material from their own scientific disciplines. Adam said the syllabus will be designed to provide a varied base for any science major and especially to introduce students to contemporary material.

“One thing I personally feel strongly about is [bringing] into the undergrad curriculum things that are interesting today, things that have been discovered recently, things that are hardly [ever] studied in undergraduate curricula,” Adam said.

Bailyn said that Yale-NUS faculty made an effort to craft electives that would be relevant and interesting to students, and that students were consulted about what electives they wanted to see offered. He said that students have the option of filling their elective slot with an independent study project, adding that the school will also consider petitions from students who want to take more than the requisite four courses next semester.

But ultimately, Bailyn said, it is still very uncertain how students’ interests will branch out in upcoming semesters.

“This is a new place and it will have a new culture, so we’ll see how it all works out,” he said.

In the 2014–’15 academic year, the number of offered electives will be increased from 10 to 45.

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