At the end of last week, Duke announced its course offerings for the second annual Spring Breakthrough program. The program offers underclassmen an opportunity to take a free week-long seminar style class during spring break. The program is the brain child of Provost Sally Kornbluth and is meant to encourage students to explore unfamiliar academic fields in a stress-free environment. The program provides students with an amazing opportunity to learn about fascinating topics along with a generous meal allotment, all subsidized by Duke. Nonetheless, problems with Spring Breakthrough still remain, primarily the program’s focus on enriching the academic experiences of underclassmen to the exclusion of upperclassmen.
Duke often claims to encourage its students to pursue a wide swathe of academic passions during their short four years here in Durham. Spring Breakthrough is a great example of Duke making good on that claim, but only for half of the student body. Many people come to Duke with no real inkling of what they want to study or where they see themselves four years down the road; such indecision does not magically disappear once a student declares their major. Duke has an obligation to its students to provide them with guidance as they explore their options; there is no question that we can do a better job exposing students to careers outside of finance, consulting and medicine. Spring Breakthrough can thus just as equally benefit upperclassmen who are struggling to find their lifelong passions and interests during their remaining two years at Duke.
The program’s exclusionary policies against upperclassmen is representative of the University’s tendency to largely de-emphasize academic exploration once a student declares a major. Programs such as Spring Breakthrough encourage students to pursue a variety of academic fields and locate their passions. However, once they declare a major, similar opportunities are few and far between. Such a discrepancy sends the message to students that once they have declared, Duke no longer seems to care to nurture their academic curiosities as upperclassmen on the path towards an Economics or Public Policy degree. Not only are programs such as Spring Breakthrough limited only to underclassmen but so are a variety of introductory classes such as Social Marketing and Practical Financial Markets. Moreover, within a number of upper level electives that require departmental consent, professors are allowed to hand curate classes to ensure that only students with “appropriate backgrounds” are allowed to take the course. These sorts of limitations actively discourage students from pursuing academic interests outside of their field of study in favor of pursuing classes that fit into their majors.
Duke should continue to foster academic exploration and intellectual curiosity for its many students beyond the sophomore year deadline for major declaration. One amazing way to do this would be opening up Spring Breakthrough to all students at the University beyond just the freshmen and sophomore classes. If not Spring Breakthrough, Duke needs to reconsider the ways it supports its upperclassmen and continue to nurture their collectives desires as lifelong learners within a variety of academic fields. Opportunities to pursue a wide variety of academic interests should not stop once a Duke student declares their major, and Spring Breakthrough should reflect that.
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