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OWAW Sees Varied Programs

As the inaugural optional week wraps up, participants evaluate its success

By Heng Shao, Crimson Staff Writer

Jeannie Tse ’14 hustled to her day-long policy and education class that began at 9 a.m. and featured a series of lectures and visits to public and charter schools in Boston. After a short dinner break, she headed over to a movie screening and discussion from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

While this may appear to be an overloaded semester course load, it is in fact Tse’s schedule during this week’s Optional Winter Activities Week.

The College administration does not have data on student participation in its inaugural OWAW events, planning instead to survey students afterwards.

But Tse’s story reflects the College’s intention to transform the last week before the beginning of classes into an opportunity to explore new topics and activities.

“I learned so much about the American education system,” Tse, who is from Hong Kong, said about her student-organized course called “Breaking the Mold.” “These are the issues that everyone needs to pay attention to.”

Erin Goodman, manager of winter break operations for the College, said the administration approved about 100 programs for the week, ranging from lectures and  workshops to ice skating and playing paint ball. But she said she did not know how many students to expect.

“Many undergraduates said that they wanted to pursue activities that they wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance to participate in during the school year,” Goodman said in a statement to the Harvard Gazette. “They also wanted an opportunity to build community and prepare for the spring term and the summer.”

“For a first go with [OWAW], we could not be more pleased with the turn-out,” said Amy A. Howell, internships director for the Institute of Politics, which organized service trips and workshops as well as walk-in office hours.

According to Howell, more than 50 students came to her office hours to inquire about summer opportunities, politics, and public service.

“I think OWAW really opens up opportunities for students to be exposed to our program,” Howell said.

“I’m hopeful that the University is going to see that OWAW should be something that’s repeated for future J-Terms,” said IOP President Jeff F. Solnet ’12.

Some students participating in OWAW programs said the events exposed them to new fields.

“I decided to participate because I’ve always been interested in theater and have been looking for a community within the school,” said Rebecca H. Kwan ’14, who was in the theater workshop of the January Arts Intensive, a five day College-organized program that offered seven different tracks.

“I am hearing a lot from the students that having a space outside of the usual semester’s rigorous schedule to work on a particular artistic interest on a daily basis has been rewarding, mind-opening, exhausting and amazing,” Bess Paupeck, a program manager in the Arts and Humanities Division wrote in an e-mail.

Alejandra G. Martinez ’13 participated in the Arts Intensive’s poetry program.

“It allows the opportunity to explore the different aspects of what a university can be, especially the arts,” she said.

—Staff writer Heng Shao can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: January 21, 2011

An earlier version of the Jan. 21 news article "OWAW Sees Varied Programs" incorrectly stated the class year of Jeannie Tse '14. She is a member of the class of 2014.

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