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Students cite challenges with RISD Wintersession, University spring term overlap

With cross registration agreement, University students can enroll in RISD courses with no extra tuition

While University students enrolled in Wintersession courses at the Rhode Island School of Design cited positive in-class learning experiences, some struggled with an “overlap” period — when their classes coincided with University’s spring term operations.

RISD’s most recent Wintersession term started Jan. 3 and ran through Feb. 6, leaving a 15-day period where some students completed their classes at RISD while managing a full course-load at the University. 58 Brown students enrolled in 60 courses over Wintersession, according to University Registrar Robert Fitzgerald. Most students took RISD’s studio courses, said RISD Registrar Alison Sherman.

Students said they struggled to balance the time-commitment, but also expressed gratitude toward professors at both institutions for their understanding and flexibility.

Reet Agrawal ’21, who took “Design and Fiction” during Wintersession, said she occasionally would “be in my RISD class, and then I would leave my RISD class to go to a Brown class. … Then I would finish the Brown class and go back to my RISD class.”

“I don’t know anyone for whom the overlap period goes well,”  she added.

Dennese Salazar ’19, an engineering concentrator at the University who enrolled in a Wintersession course titled “Design and Fiction,” expressed similar concerns.

“The end of Wintersession is usually the busiest time of the course because we’re making a lot of stuff, ” Salazar said.  “I did have to manage my time more than I usually do at the beginning of my Brown semester.”

The University offers no formal accommodations for time conflicts, according to Fitzgerald. “It’s the student’s responsibility to understand that the two calendars don’t align with each other,” he added.

Despite no official University policy, Agrawal and Salazar noted that professors at both institutions accommodated their schedules.

“Even at Brown, I had to skip a couple classes, and my professors were understanding of it. … One of them even gave me extensions on deadlines,” Agrawal said.

Rebecca Zuo ’21, a computer science concentrator at the University, took a course called “Drawing Yr Spatial Sensation” that involved charcoal and figure drawings.

During the period of overlap between the spring semester and RISD Wintersession, “it was a lot of work to manage both of them, but I thought it was doable,” Zuo said. The RISD course’s professor “knew that shopping period was kind of a chaotic time, and she allowed me to miss the RISD class so I could shop (Brown) classes that I was interested in,” Zuo added.

Students at the University are also not able to pre-register for RISD Wintersession courses, as registration for University students is based on available spaces in RISD courses, according to Deputy Dean of the College Christopher Dennis.

The inability for students to pre-register for Wintersession courses has contributed to a perception that “there are barriers,” Dennis said, adding that he understood the process “makes people nervous.”

Cross-registration can be “an uncertain and tricky process,” Agrawal said. “You don’t know whether or not you’re registered for a course until the date of the course. So, as an international student, that’s really annoying because I had to fly home and then come back, and then I wasn’t even sure if I would get into a class.”

Further complicating the process, Zuo said she was unable to access her dorm until she registered for a class.

Overall, University students said they enjoyed their Wintersession experiences at RISD.

“Everyone should do at least one RISD class,” Salazar said. Through her experience with Wintersession at RISD, Salazar said she learned valuable lessons in problem solving, project management and teamwork.

“Very few classes are structured in a way that the entire class works together on a single project,” Agrawal said.  “It was worth it. I loved my class.”

The academic course cross-registration agreement between Brown and RISD began after an early 20th century stroll through Providence, Dennis said.

“The story is that the two presidents of the institutions … did some figures on the back of an envelope and came up with the plan, and it’s been in place ever since.”

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story stated that RISD Registrar Alison Sherman told The Herald that 58 Brown students enrolled in 60 courses over Wintersession. In fact, the registration numbers are attributed to University Registrar Robert Fitzgerald. The Herald regrets the error. 

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