By Jim DeLa
While spring classes don’t officially start until Jan. 28, many New College students are busy, doing research, writing and, in many cases, expanding their horizons. January is Independent Study Project time at New College.
All New College students must complete at least three ISPs in order to graduate. According to the ISP Handbook, students must choose a topic in consultation with a faculty member who agrees to become the ISP sponsor. To help with that process, New College hosts an ISP Fair every November to give advice on what requirements students must ]meet and what kinds of topics generally make good ISPs.
Associate Provost Suzanne Sherman says the workshop was particularly helpful for newer students tackling their first project. “It’s challenging for first-years,” to come up with their own project and plan a research strategy, she said.
Subjects of ISPs can be as varied as the students who participate in them. This year, topics include studying bird populations on campus, training service dogs, songwriting, robotics, as well as projects in microbiology, marine science, data science, literature and philosophy.
One of the more daunting pieces of the ISP, especially for first-years, is finding a professor to sponsor them. “They don’t know the faculty,” Sherman observed. To help, faculty offer a host of group ISPs students can join.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is come up with more group ISPs,” said Sherman, to help first-years get more comfortable with the process. Topics for this year’s group ISP include studying the effects of climate change on lizards in Peru, studying coral reefs in Panama, a class in day trading and Mindfulness Meditation.
Sherman says the ISP process is valuable. “By the second and third ISP, they’ve had experience doing independent work and planning a project. They learn about putting together their own thing; they learn what a scholarly project is. Plus many ISPs develop into ideas for a thesis.”
Dedicating three to four weeks to a single endeavor has other advantages. “It creates an opportunity to get students into the lab or in the field,” for an extended period, she said.
ISPs also allow students the freedom to explore topics not available in regular courses. “They (ISPs) can be really diverse,” Sherman said. “It can be a chance to explore a subject they’ve never done before, or advance a project with an expert in the field.”
– Jim DeLa is digital communications coordinator at New College of Florida.