One Course, Two Weeks, Lessons for Life

January 23, 2014
By Jenny Li Fowler, HKS Communications

You wouldn’t know by the spirited discussion in crowded Starr Auditorium last week that it was late Friday morning in mid-January, the period between academic semesters, a time when students traditionally leave the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) campus to visit family and friends over the holidays.

The students, who chose to remain in Cambridge over the winter break to squeeze in another course prior to the start of the spring semester, were focused on what Gary Orren, V.O. Key, Jr. Professor of Politics and Leadership, argued was "one of the most important 15 minutes in U.S. history most Americans know nothing about."

Orren was referring to Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s inspirational “sermon” to approximately 120 mutinous soldiers from the 20th Maine regiment moments before heading into the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

As Orren explains, Chamberlain’s sermon had a significant impact on the battle, and is a case study of persuasion worthy of emulation by students enrolled in his January Term (J-term) course, "Persuasion: The Science and Art of Effective Influence." It is one of 16 J-term courses offered at HKS this January, all of which give students a unique opportunity to earn an additional course credit in just two weeks.

“The J-term also offers much more time and space to accommodate every type of experiential and conventional learning—extended role-play simulations, classroom exercises, small group breakouts, videos, and lecture/discussions,” says Orren. “The J-term is ideal for a course like mine where students are developing and honing practical professional skills, breaking old habits, and experimenting with, and acquiring new ones.”

All HKS J-term courses meet five days a week; most begin at eight or nine in the morning and continue until five or six o'clock each night.

“It’s pretty intense but the great thing about it is that you can really dive into something and do it on a focused basis. During the regular term you have the distraction of having to juggle four different classes at the same time with all the assignments and readings. But here you really get to zero-in so I kind of like that,” says Dorothy Tuma MC/MPA 2014.

“It’s a much more immersive, engaging experience,” Caleb Phillips MPP 2015.

“I didn’t expect the workload and the pace. It takes a lot of time for preparation; there is a lot of classroom discussion, and a lot of homework. Overall I think it’s quite effective,” Jiaoli Chen MC/MPA 2014.

This year's J-term course list included: "Leadership for a Livable City," taught by David Gergen, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership; "Inclusive Security" with Swanee Hunt, Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy; and "Advance Workshop in Multiparty Negotiation and Conflict Resolution," with instructor Brian Mandell, senior lecturer in public policy.

Most of the courses meet on campus but a few, such as "Community Recovery: Rebuilding Disaster Damaged Communities in Chile," taught by Doug Ahlers, submerge students into important fieldwork. Students in previous years have traveled to New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, and to Chile following the devastating 8.8-magnitude earthquake which struck in 2010, to help residents rebuild their communities.

“We call it an immersive learning experience,” says Ahlers, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center and adjunct lecturer in public policy. “We’re taking classroom-learned skills and applying them in a real-world setting where time is short, the stakes are high, and real people are counting on us. In situations like these, I’ve found that Kennedy School students always rise to the occasion.”

While Colonel Chamberlain had 15 minutes to practice the principles of persuasion, the students in Orren’s course have two weeks to try to master them.

“I think J-Term is good for some particular courses which can really develop your skill set within a short time,” says Chen.

“It’s the kind of learning that sticks,” says Orren.

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Gary Orren, V.O. Key, Jr. Professor of Politics and Leadership,

Gary Orren, V.O. Key, Jr. Professor of Politics and Leadership, teaching his J-term course on persuasion.

Photo Credit: Jon Chase/Harvard Gazette

“The J-term also offers much more time and space to accommodate every type of experiential and conventional learning—extended role-play simulations, classroom exercises, small group breakouts, videos, and lecture/discussions,” says Orren.

Orren's course, "Persuasion: The Science and Art of Effective Influence."

Photo Credit: Jon Chase/Harvard Gazette