This past week, nearly 100 first-years and sophomores spent their Spring Breaks on campus participating in the inaugural offering of Spring Breakthrough. Spring Breakthrough, the brainchild of Provost Sally Kornbluth, is a five-day program offered to underclassmen during which students can take an interactive seminar course free of charge during the spring recess. In addition to free education, students participating in the program are provided meals and extra Flex points to cover dining during the duration of break.
The premise of the program, with creative courses ranging from “The Biology of Popular Science Fiction TV & Movies” to “Encountering Thoreau in the South,” is to give undergraduates at Duke an opportunity to explore an academic interest outside of their respective focus areas. As emphasized by Provost Kornbluth, the main aim for Spring Breakthrough is to facilitate an environment of “risk-free deep intellectual engagement.” Echoing Kornbluth’s sentiments, Spring Breakthrough offers the chance to engage with talented professors like behavioral economist Dan Ariely or classicist Joshua Sosin without the burdens of tuition or graded participation.
Although staying on campus to engage with the politics behind "Hamilton" may not seem like the most exciting Spring Break plan to a Duke student, Spring Breakthrough is a welcome alternative to those students looking for further intellectual engagement beyond the typical classroom experience. Quite often, the student body at Duke has been criticized as being too anti-intellectual and too pre-professional—a characterization that the national media has facilitated through their ever present coverage of the next Duke scandal. Spring Breakthrough, however, belies this media stereotype. Embodying the spirit of ambitious intellectualism very much present throughout Duke’s student body, the program gathers together students who would much prefer to spend their Spring Break by the shelves of Perkins rather than the sands of Panama.
Moreover, the cost-free nature of Spring Breakthrough provides a financially feasible Spring Break option to Duke students of more moderate means. The costs of traveling back home for Spring Break, not even to mention vacationing in the Bahamas, can be prohibitively expensive for students dependent on need based financial aid. To those limited by their financial circumstances, staying on campus during their Spring Break is often the most fiscally realistic option, albeit with the added burden of paying for on-campus dining. Consequently, Spring Breakthrough epitomizes a much welcome alternative to those Duke students strained by their financial circumstances to afford a memorable Spring Break experience.
In short, the Spring Breakthrough is a refreshing move on the part of the administration to provide a cost-free, intellectual Spring Break experience without the burden of graded assessment. The administration should aim to harness the spirit of Spring Breakthrough in its implementation of future academic programs. Perhaps a coordinate Fall Breakthrough program could be conducted as an academic counterpart. Alternatively, the idea of having students lead their own Spring Breakthrough courses in the style of houses could be explored. Being an experimental program, there is always room for improvement as burgeoning academic programs like Spring Breakthrough entrench themselves into the intellectual fabric of Duke. Nonetheless, Spring Breakthrough in its future offerings will no doubt continue to facilitate the processes the “processes of inquiry and discovery” so integral to a Duke undergraduate education.