Baking baklava and playing Ultimate Frisbee are two activities that are unlikely to appear on Penn class syllabi. But thanks to this fall’s preceptorial offerings, students can register on Penn InTouch to learn how to do both.
Preceptorials are non-credit, non-graded classes that normally meet once or twice a semester.
For those reasons, these classes often appeal to students as a “risk-free option,” according to Wharton sophomore Maria Gao, treasurer and NSO preceptorials director on the Preceptorials Committee.
“A lot of people don’t have the time necessarily to take classes on these subjects” due to academic constraints, she said.
Fifty-nine preceptorials will be offered this semester, a slight decrease from last semester, when there were 62. During NSO this year there were an additional 43 preceptorials.
The classes this fall range from “Social Etiquette and Leadership” to “How to have Sex in Ancient Greece.”
College senior Dina Shteyngardt, chair of the Preceptorials Committee, said the process for coming up with the preceptorials topics is overwhelmingly decentralized.
“Our committee members normally come up with the ideas for preceptorials and approach faculty,” she said, referring to the student-run Preceptorials Committee.
One noticeable change from previous semesters’ offerings is the increased number of graduate students who will lead preceptorials this semester. Shteyngardt confirmed this was part of a deliberate effort to reach out to graduate students, who tend to have “a lot of energy and enthusiasm for teaching.”
Matt Farmer, a fifth-year classical studies doctoral student, will be teaching “How to Have Sex in Ancient Greece.”
“I love to teach,” he said, “but I fulfilled the teaching curriculum of my degree.” Farmer also enjoys teaching preceptorials because they give “the chance to teach some more exciting subjects that grad students don’t normally get to teach.”
In addition to graduate students, several preceptorials will be taught by instructors who are from outside the Penn community. Students can learn about bicycle maintenance from the owner of Trophy Bikes on 31st and Walnut streets, and the manager and the head chef of Manakeesh Café Bakery at 44th and Walnut streets will teach the Baklava-baking preceptorial.
In previous semesters, concerns were raised about waitlists. Board members had suggested increasing the number of preceptorials to help decrease the number of students who had to be turned away. This semester, however, Shteyngardt offered a different position.
“It’s actually a common misconception. There isn’t a waitlist for every preceptorial,” Shteyngardt said. “But there are a couple which consistently have waitlists … especially anything with a field trip.”
For example, 515 students registered for the historically popular “Wine Tasting” preceptorial last semester — which is not offered this fall — and 169 were waitlisted. But Shteyngardt noted in an email that this is “pretty atypical.”
A much more usual example is the “Biopolitics in Modern America” preceptorial Shteyngardt organized, which had a maximum capacity of 20 students and an original enrollment of over 50. Less than 10 students ultimately attended.
However, some students expressed discontent with the preceptorial registration process. When asked about NSO preceptorials, Engineering freshman Alex Little responded, “It would help if I got into one.”
“A lot of people I know couldn’t get into anything. And then there’s some people who got into four and only went to one,” he said.
Little suggested modifying the algorithm which randomly assigns students to preceptorials.
Other students like Engineering senior Ashley Clark were less critical. Clark has taken between one and three preceptorials every semester to explore non-Engineering subjects, and said that she normally applies for more preceptorials than she expects to get into.
“I think a lot of people understand that you’re not going to get into everything that you apply for,” she said. “Yeah, some people do complain, but the majority of the people that I talk to kind of understand that it’s a random lottery.”
The descriptions for this semester’s preceptorials are online and registration will be open on Penn InTouch until Sept. 21.
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