Several students play in giant snow globe.

Winter Term at Oberlin

The on-campus experience

Winter Term provides students with the opportunity to explore interests outside of their traditional semester curriculum through a four-week immersive venture of their choosing, individually or with a group. Whether on or off campus, students use this time to pursue topics of interest, develop a new skill, conduct intensive research, prepare for a future career, or expand their academic experience. Oberlin offers a robust calendar of social events for the month of January that includes planned activities, outings, and excursions, so those who choose to stay in Oberlin for their Winter Term experience can easily engage with the community and build connections with fellow students.

Take a glimpse of what the on-campus experience looks like.

Header photo caption: Students celebrated the completion of their Winter Term 2020 work at the first Winter Term Carnival. (Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko)

At a Glance

More than 930 students chose to spend Winter Term on campus this year, using the time to try something different or broaden their knowledge of a popular subject. Students practiced and performed with the new Phlox orchestra, studied dark matter, improved their string and chamber music skills, developed an Alaskan Native exhibit, learned introductory Greek, and so much more.

A large group of students play instruments. A conductor stands in the front.
Members of the Phlox orchestra practice in Conservatory Central. The Phlox Ensembles are a choir and orchestra made up of women, trans, and non-binary musicians organized by Oberlin Students for Gender Inclusivity in Music.
Photo credit: Dale Preston ’83
A student looks toward the front of the room.
Students in the Practicum in Exhibit Design project work to develop a community-informed exhibit of Alaska Native cultural objects, associated interview material, and digital content.
Photo credit: Yvonne Gay
A violin held on a shoulder.
This session of the String Quartet Intensive takes place in Kulas Recital Hall with Associate Professor of Viola and Chamber Music Kirsten Docter.
Photo credit: Dustin Franz
Student writes Greek letters on a blackboard.
This language course takes students through the syllabus for Greek 101. Students who successfully complete the course during this winter term may sign up for Greek 102 in the spring.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko
A flute is reassembled.
A flute is reassembled in Associate Professor Alexa Still’s Flute Repair and Maintenance group project.
Photo credit: Dale Preston ’83
A student looks at a monitor.
An ongoing research project involving dark matter in Associate Professor of Physics Jason Stalnaker’s laser lab is the focus of this project.
Photo credit: Dustin Franz
A student holds a lab instrument over a glass beaker while looking at a science professor

“I hope that students leave the program, thinking, ‘I can be a scientist.’”

Lisa Ryno
Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

PERSIST: Intro to Research Project Helps Students Envision Themselves as Scientists

New Winter Term offering gives underrepresented students meaningful insights into what it’s like to conduct research in a STEM lab

A new mentoring program for underrepresented students in the sciences offered a Winter Term course that informed students about undergraduate research opportunities both at Oberlin and off campus and prepared them for what to expect once they begin working in a research lab.

Led by Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Lisa Ryno, the PERSIST: Intro to Research Winter Term group learned how to read primary literature, use scientific search engines, and communicate and present scientific ideas. The overarching goal was to catalyze students’ research experiences and give them the tools they need to find a laboratory in which they can contribute.

Each week, Oberlin faculty in STEM demonstrated interesting lab techniques, such as scanning electron microscopy with Associate Professor of Geology Zeb Page, meta-learning at the Allen Memorial Art Museum with Associate Professor of Biology Taylor Allen, and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry with Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Will Parsons. Topics covered include lab safety, searching databases for literature and review articles, building a resume and personal statement, how and when to apply for summer research fellowships, best practices in making figures, and how to give a successful oral presentation.

A student places science test tubes in a caddy.
A student at work in the lab.
Photo credit: Dale Preston ’83

The course required students to choose a STEM topic to research in depth, construct an annotated bibliography, and give an oral PowerPoint presentation on their findings.

PERSIST, or PeERS in STem, supports underrepresented students through mentoring and networking, providing a welcoming and inclusive community, and helping students build confidence in science courses and combat impostor syndrome.

“One of the primary goals of the PERSIST program is to help students build their science identity—the internal conceptualization of who a person believes themselves to be with regards to their interest and involvement with science,” Ryno says. “Through the lab experiences this winter term, students have had one-on-one interactions with six different faculty members from several STEM disciplines, using some of the most sophisticated instrumentation we have on campus. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, students see that faculty are just regular people who are incredibly excited about their area of study, and second, it demonstrates that students routinely use and interact with delicate, amazing instruments, and they collect meaningful scientific data. I hope that students leave the program, thinking, ‘I can be a scientist.’”

Share and read the story about PERSIST on our news site.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Lisa Ryno informs students about research opportunities both on and off campus and prepares them for what to expect once they begin working in a research lab.
Photo credit: Dale Preston ’83

Running Up the Scores

Hollywood composer Adam Cohen ’91 returned to campus to lead a two-week intensive on scoring for movies and TV.

Individuals in a recording studio.
Photo credit: Peter Swendsen

The project included students from the conservatory’s Composition and TIMARA departments, as well as musical studies majors from the College of Arts and Sciences. Additional students on campus for Winter Term lent their expertise in the studio, performing the student composers’ creations. For their final project, the composers were assigned to score a portion of a short film—which happened to have been made by another Oberlin alum, Jennifer Carsillo ’90.

Podcasting Oberlin News Develops Students’ Audio Storytelling Skills

Podcasting project immerses students in podcasting as a medium; fosters storytelling, interviewing, audio recording, and editing skills

A student holds a lab instrument over a glass beaker while looking at a science professor

“Seeing my interests converge through Beast showed me new possibilities for life after Oberlin.”

Kitty Schwartz ’20

Master a Beast in 4 Short Weeks

Students devote winter term to mounting an opera premiere.

How many Oberlin students does it take to produce a world-premiere opera? In January 2020, 32 student singers, instrumentalists, and designers produced The Wild Beast of the Bungalow, a new opera by composer Rachel J. Peters and librettist Royce Vavrek. The dark comedy follows a young girl reacting to her parents’ failing marriage with a menagerie of whimsical, candid creatures.

Led by 10 faculty and professional artists, the cast rehearsed the show while the production team researched taxidermy, sewed mermaid costumes, and built a hot-pink bedroom set on the stage of Warner Concert Hall—all in four weeks.

Twelve years in the making, the opera received its stage legs through Oberlin’s new Opera Commissioning Program, supported by Elizabeth and Justus ’71 Schlichting. A fall semester workshop cast fine-tuned Beast with Peters and Vavrek in preparation for the winter production, which was produced in conjunction with Cleveland Opera Theater’s New Opera Works {NOW} Fest.

Oberlin’s dedication to new opera increases opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. Kitty Schwartz ’20, an English and history double major, served as assistant director for this production. She had to opportunity to grow a love for opera by attending the Lyric Opera of Chicago regularly while pursuing research in the city during her junior year.

“Seeing my interests converge through Beast showed me new possibilities for life after Oberlin,” she says. “I can definitely see myself in arts administration, and I would love to work in opera.”

The Wild Beast of the Bungalow ran at Oberlin Conservatory January 29 through February 2. It was directed by Christopher Mirto, conducted by Joseph Hodge, and musically prepared by Daniel Michalak.

Share and read the story about The Wild Beast of the Bungalow on our news site.

A young girl is visited by a family of taxidermied prairie dogs and other unusual guests in Oberlin Opera Theater’s world-premiere production of Rachel J. Peters’ The Wild Beast of the Bungalow.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Teaching Dance to Anyone

Students in the Teaching Writing to Everyone group project join Teaching Dance to Anyone students in Warner Center for a lesson in creative movement.

A girl lays on her stomach in a dance studio with her arms bent and at her sides.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

History at the Museum Examines How Institutions Educate the Public

Winter Term project explores how various museums chose to construct narratives.

A man stands in front of a classroom filled with students seated at long tables

“No matter what you want to do with your career, it’s good to know these things about business.”

Steve Dolcemaschio

‘Business For Life’ Prepares Students For Success

In this course, students learn how to manage their financial futures

Among the many Winter Term 2020 offerings on campus is Business For Life, an introductory business and personal finance course, taught by Steve Dolcemaschio, Oberlin College trustee and former president of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment’s reality studio.

The three-week course aims to equip students with fundamental business skills on both personal and corporate levels. Topics covered range from creating a business plan to understanding credit cards and mortgages.

“No matter what you want to do with your career, it‘s good to know these things about business,” says Dolcemashio, who has taught courses on business and financial literacy to students of various ages and levels.

“The big thing for me is the personal finance part. I think because we’re going to run into that stuff eventually, it’s going to be useful to know how to do it,” says Justin Pelofsky ’22.

Dolcemaschio encourages his students to start thinking about their financial futures, especially while they are young and in college.

“How do you effectively run a business? What is a human resources group? How do you market yourself? How do you make sure you achieve the greatest degree of success that you can achieve?,” are all questions Dolcemaschio posed regarding course objectives.

A man stands in front of a class talking and motioning with his hands.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Gigi Ewing ’22 says Business For Life has inspired her to “start thinking about it now, start investing now, and start making plans now.”

Whether creating an ad for a fictional product or preparing a mock job interview, students are getting the skills they need to succeed in their respective careers. According to Dolcemashio, “once you get the knowledge, it’s a lot less intimidating.”

Students learn the basics of business from both corporate and personal perspectives from Steve Dolcemaschio, chief operating officer of Comcast Entertainment Group.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Beginning Viola Da Gamba

Students take part in one of the daily hour-long class sessions with Associate Professor Catharina Meints.

Three students play a viola da gamba in a practice room.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko
A man and girl stand in the dark looking at three tents with lights next to them

“I'd never actually put on a play that I wrote myself, so when I saw this Winter Term project, I thought this would be a way to do that.”

Rachel Yee ’23

Staging the Real: Workshopping Neo-Futurist Performance Art

Theater alum Joey Rizzolo ’97 teaches interdisciplinary course in collaborative performance art

A new Winter Term 2020 offering this year introduced students to non-illusory performance art—an aesthetic in which performers do not pretend—culminating in a collaborative presentation of students’ own devising.

Oberlin theater alumnus Joey Rizzolo ’97 brought his expertise in Neo-Futurism to teach Staging the Real: Writing, Music Composition, and Performance. This group project invited students with a background in at least one artistic discipline, such as music composition, performance, visual art, and writing, and a willingness to explore other disciplines in a collaborative environment.

Neo-Futurism has deep Oberlin roots. Greg Allen ’84 pioneered the performance theory and founded the Neo-Futurists—an ensemble of artists who write, direct, and perform original experimental theater in the form of interactive non-fiction performance—in 1988. The Chicago and New York companies have attracted the talent of Oberlin alumni Rachel Claff ’95, Julia Melfi ’15, and Rizzolo.

Three students sit next to each other, one smiles, one plays guitar, and another holds a cell phone.
Students work on original material in a Hall Annex studio.
Photo credit: Dustin Franz

Rizzolo has 25 years of teaching experience with all ages. He says he designed the course with an interdisciplinary approach, so that students could come to the creation of performance art from any artistic background.

“There are students in this course with areas of expertise which I am not familiar with at all, and they’re bringing in work that I never would have envisioned. We have a site-specific audio installation piece, and another student did a combination installation piece that incorporates video, sculpture, movement, and voices. There are a lot of different components we worked with, and the students were very ambitious about it. One of the challenges was getting them to cut down the number of things they wanted to present, because we had hours of content.”

The first two weeks of the project focused on collaborative writing and composition, in which students generated work based on specific prompts, like “create a group movement piece set to music,” “write a monologue in someone else’s voice,” and “create a piece that uses text as a key tool of communication, but none of the text is spoken.”

“Sometimes it was musical compositions, sometimes it was autobiography, choreography, or politics,” Rizzolo says. “All of these were prompts they were able to interpret however they wanted. In my experience in teaching this way, people hear a prompt and they think, ‘this is the way to execute it.’ Everyone is always surprised at how people interpret those prompts differently.”

On January 31, installation pieces went on display and the students presented their short-form performance art pieces in Oberlin’s Kander Theater.

Four students sit and listen to a teacher talking.
Joey Rizzolo ’97 meets with students during his workshop.
Photo credit: Dustin Franz

The project drew 16 participants. First-year Rachel Yee says she chose this project because she’s always had a passion for theater, and Neo-Futurism was something she wanted to explore.

“I'd never actually put on a play that I wrote myself, so when I saw this Winter Term project, I thought this would be a way to do that,” says Yee, a Technology in Music and Related Arts major from Delaware, Ohio.

Yee says she learned how to express herself and her experiences in terms of how she wanted the audience to experience them. “This expression can be as vivid or as vague as it needs to be as long as I'm thinking about how the audience will react, and if that reaction matches the message I'm trying to convey. If I keep this in mind while creating a piece of music, then I can effectively communicate the intent of my composition.”

Students work on original material in the lounge of Hall Annex
Students work on original material in the lounge of Hall Annex.
Photo credit: Dustin Franz

Rizzolo says he was impressed with the quality and artistry of the group.

“One of the first things I asked them to do was to create a piece that required them to show off a specific skill or talent so everyone in the room could understand who they were collaborating with. We had amazing drawn visual compositions and songs written in real time. Because these students were approaching it from their own area of artistic familiarity, everything that was brought in astonished me with regard to how mature and developed it was.”

Share and read the story about Staging the Real on our news site.

Photo credit: Dustin Franz

Obiewood Intensive: Script Analysis, Treatment, Pitch

In this workshop led by Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies and Creative Writing Joshua Sperling, students explore the practical skills involved in telling and analyzing popular screen narratives.

A man stands in front of a class engaging with students seated at a long table.
Photo credit: John Seyfried

More Stories

Want to know more about the on-campus experience? Read about the dialogue session led by noted social justice facilitator Simon Greer, and how students organized a new music ensemble to give underrepresented students a place on stage.


Practicum in Museum Education

Since 1990, the Allen Memorial Art Museum, one of the top college museums in the country, has offered a class during the winter term that enables students to look behind the scenes at the Allen, explore museum careers, and experience teaching in the galleries.

A pair of individuals dancing.

Dance Like Everybody’s Listening

For Winter Term 2020, the conservatory’s TIMARA department teamed up with GroundWorks DanceTheater for a project that united composers and dancers under the guidance of TIMARA professor Peter Swendsen ’99.

Woman standing at a podium.

Bold and Cold: Cultivating Leadership Skills

Bold and Cold, a new Winter Term 2020 workshop series sponsored by the Heisman Club, is designed to cultivate leadership skills and learn how to build a strong team culture.

More Information

Oberlin’s Office of Winter Term oversees and coordinates all student projects during the four weeks in January, on and off campus, domestic and international. A Winter Term Committee composed of faculty and staff members advise and guide the academic course offerings. Students may devise an individual project or work with faculty and other students in a group. The on-campus experience this year offered a range of social and recreational activities—from tobogganing and bowling, to mid-morning snacks and concerts in the Cat in the Cream Coffeehouse. Three projects are required for graduation.