Optimize your winter.


Many college students use the winter break to unwind. But for those restless to keep learning, URI offers a mini-semester in January called J Term with a wide array of options. Maybe you’d like to protect coral reefs in Bonaire, study global health issues in Indonesia or tour some of the biggest engineering companies in Germany.

“J Term is a wonderful way for students to participate in unique academic opportunities, on campus and abroad,’’ said John Olerio, J Term coordinator. “Students who come back can’t wait to start planning for next January. That says something about the success of our program.’’

The life experience is invaluable. But students also earn credits, accelerating their path to graduation or lightening the workload for a semester. And tuition rates are reduced, making the classes affordable.

Not surprisingly, enrollment in J Term has surged since it was launched two years ago. So far, 243 students have applied for 15 travel classes this year, up from 159 students last year. And hundreds of students have signed up for about 40 campus classes.

Casey Hill, who graduated in May with a degree in physical therapy, visited hockey and baseball training camps during a 10-day sports medicine trip to Florida last year. She worked with professional and college athletes – and made great connections. “It was a fantastic trip,’’ she said. “I got tons of practical hands-on experience. And the networking was invaluable.’’

One of the newer J Term offerings is in Cuba, which recently restored diplomatic ties with the United States. Students tour the island, visit museums, universities and hospitals, talk with writers and artists and study the country’s history, economy, politics and culture.

“The Revolution is very much alive in Cuba,’’ said Tyler Figgs, who played baseball with a group of Cubans when he went last year. “They don’t have any commercial advertising – no ads for Coca-Cola, just billboards of Castro and Che Guevara. It was a great experience.’’

There are more J Term offerings than ever this year. In Portugal, for instance, students immerse themselves in the culture of one of the oldest countries in Europe. In the Dominican Republic, they volunteer at a prenatal clinic or senior center. And in Belize students make a documentary using underwater cameras while snorkeling on the world’s second largest coral reef. Our course in Hawaii offers a focus on exercise science, including teaching children with disabilities and wounded veterans how to surf.

The campus classes are especially popular with students who want to graduate early or earn a minor to supplement their bachelor’s degree. “Marketing Principles,’’ “History of Jazz’’ and “The Business of Digital Media’’ – taught by an Oscar-winning instructor – are just some of those offerings.

“J Term opened my eyes to see what’s out there,’’ said Marissa Smyrski, a URI physical therapy student who studied in Florida. Her advice: Sign up. J term is a great program for students eager to step into the world.