University of Rochester

Rochester Review
March-April 2009
Vol. 71, No. 4

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Take Five By Joel Seligman

For more than two decades, the University’s Take Five Scholars Program has been inspiring undergraduates to pursue their intellectual and academic interests in a way that’s unique in higher education.

First introduced in 1986, the program gives undergraduates a tuition-free fifth year of study to deepen and broaden their education. The New York Times described Take Five shortly after its launch as “one of the more innovative liberal arts programs in the country.” The program provides select students the opportunity to spend a semester or a year on campus and work closely with faculty to explore an area outside the confines of their undergraduate majors. Take Five Scholars take full advantage of the intellectually rich liberal arts education available at Rochester.

The program’s success is a tribute to the innovative foresight of such leaders as President Emeritus Dennis O’Brien, under whose guidance the Take Five Program flourished. Take Five is a hallmark of Dennis’s abiding belief that great universities such as ours should educate the “whole student” in ways that will prepare our undergraduates for a lifetime of learning.

Since it was first proposed by Sidney Shapiro, now a professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering, more than 900 students have been selected for Take Five. This academic year another 68 students were enrolled in the program. Almost since its inception, Take Five has been admirably overseen by Suzanne O’Brien ’59, the associate dean of undergraduate studies in the College.

The students who challenge themselves through Take Five often report that their experience was deeply enriching, if not life-altering. Each spring Take Five Scholars talk about their projects and what the experience has meant to them. Each student’s story is inspiring.

Justin Gorski ’08, whose project was titled “Experiencing Muslim Culture,” writes “[T]he Take Five Scholars Program has allowed me to extract more out of undergraduate education than I ever thought possible. In short, my experiences as a Take Five Scholar have become the culmination of my collegiate career. I now know that I will leave the University of Rochester as an exceptionally well-informed global citizen in addition to a well-educated young man.”

Jennie Fagen ’08, whose project was “German Music,” notes “I set out to receive a hands-on learning experience—culturally and musically—and prepared to do so by gaining a basic background in music theory and German language at the University of Rochester. I received a great deal more than I anticipated.”

And Melinda Huang ’08, whose project was titled “Into the World of Social Interactions and Development,” writes, “Because of this program, I was given the opportunity to take courses that I did not have the time to take but held a keen interest in. To me, there is nothing more intrinsically rewarding than pursuing an area of study just for the sake of learning and curiosity. I am already able to apply the knowledge and materials I have learned during my Take Five program to events that are occurring in my personal life. . . . It was an amazing experience, and if any student is interested in a particular area of study outside their major, I highly recommend the Take Five Program.”

The Bridging Fellowship Program, administered by Provost Ralph Kuncl, provides our faculty with a similar opportunity. Under the program, Bridging Fellows are provided with a semester to study with their faculty colleagues in another part of the University. Over the past three decades, the program has allowed Eastman faculty to study in the College and at the Simon School, Simon School faculty to study at the Medical Center, and College faculty to study at Eastman, the Simon School, and the Medical Center.

In a recent example, Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy, spent a semester with colleagues in the Department of Religion and Classics, where he explored the nature of religion and the nature of science as different ways of understanding the place of humans in the universe. The result is Adam’s new book, The Constant Fire, published this spring to enthusiastic reviews. To date, more than 70 faculty members have been selected as Bridging Fellows.

We are proud of Take Five and the Bridging Fellow programs. They are emblematic of the innovative spirit that we embrace at the University of Rochester.