Summer Session helps students earn degrees

A record number of students enrolled in Summer Session this year

Student with mask on outside.
Senior Madi Strohauer said she appreciated learning over the summer from the comfort of her own home. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Even during a life-altering pandemic, UC Santa Cruz was able to achieve its summer session goal of helping students complete their degrees.

Despite huge hurdles to overcome, the university was able to bring more than 350 classes to remote learning this summer. 

"I am immeasurably proud of summer instructor innovation and adaptability—launching this unique summer, unprecedented in size and strain,” said Monica Parikh, summer session director. “Our new and continuing Slugs made much-needed degree progress."

UC Santa Cruz staff and faculty have been steadily working to increase summer session enrollment, leading UCs in online offerings and working with departments to offer the classes students need to graduate. 

Driven in part by the switch to all-remote classes, 7,816 students took 78,942 credits—a major increase from 2013, when 4,717 students took 32,488 credits. 

This continued growth of Summer Session is particularly sweet for Parikh, who was tasked with doubling its enrollment when she was hired in 2012. Parikh said she’s just happy that students were able to get the classes they needed. 

Madi Strohauer, a senior and lead mentor in the Summer Edge program for first-year and transfer students, said she was nervous about attending online classes at first, but had a good experience. She appreciated being in the comfort of her home and avoiding a commute. 

She said online classes do require self-motivation and self-discipline. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re tuning into a Zoom class with your camera turned off. 

Marisa Dobkins, who is close to finishing her degree, said she appreciated being able to take the summer online courses while living at home in San Jose. She enjoys the flexibility of not having to be tied to a certain time or place. 

“Really, I’ve been doing a large portion of classes online for years and years and it is working,” she said.

However, she said she preferred her synchronous classes to those asynchronous because of the community support. She liked connecting with the students and seeing her proctors. With her asynchronous classes, she had less face-to-face communication with the instructors. 

While making the switch to online teaching was tough for some faculty, they rose to the challenge. 

Parikh highlights the example of Organic Chemistry 2 instructor Gabriella Amberchan. Going remote this summer allowed her to add more space to her popular class. She was able to accommodate double the students in this graduation- and medical school-required course- and a lab science class at that. Parikh emphasizes this was a huge accomplishment.

To accomplish the lab requirement, Amberchan had teaching assistants video-record themselves performing the experiments. Students watched the recordings and wrote up reports on what they observed. 

While Amberchan recorded her lectures, she checked in with many students during office hours and review sessions. She thinks more students asked her questions in the online format than they would have in person. “I enjoyed it,” she said. “I think I was able to reach more students.”

Summer session is the only time that anyone can take classes at UC Santa Cruz. Ariana Lyman, a high school student in New Mexico, also enjoyed her experience taking an online introductory course on oceanography. 

“You don’t experience the ocean here in the desert,” she said. “It was cool learning about that because I don’t learn about it in school.”