Boot Camp Prepares Grad Students for ClassesBy Gail Clendenin | John Glenn School of Public Affairs
High school calculus teacher: (to students) How do you find slope?
Students: (shouting) Subtract the Ys over subtract the Xs!
This high school math class ritual echoes in my head as I watch Blair Russell, a Ph.D. student at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, place two chalk points on a graph and explain how to derive the equation for the line they create. I am sitting in a lecture hall with sixty-five people, most incoming students for the MPA, MA, dual-degree, and in-career programs at the Glenn School, and we are in boot camp.
Boot camp is the Glenn School’s service to incoming students who, like me, haven’t sat in a math class (or English class, or economics class) for a long time. During the week before classes began at OSU, the Glenn School cooperated with the Knowlton School’s City and Regional Planning program to offer six review sessions covering skills and knowledge that students would need in graduate school, including fundamentals from algebra, graphing, economics, statistics, writing, and computer graphics and design. Offering review sessions helps students to enter class with greater confidence and allows professors to spend less class time reviewing basic skills. Glenn students seemed eager to get a head-start on class; attendance at each boot camp session included 50 percent to 65 persent of the incoming Master’s-level students.
The material is dry but the instructors are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subjects. Adam Eckerd shows us, in the statistics session, how we can graph and analyze data—the cookies left over after each session—to conclude that peanut-butter cookies are our least favorite. Charles Cartwright, an auxiliary professor from City and Regional Planning, explains that if I want to put a SpongeBob graphic in a report, the graphic should have a resolution of at least 300 ppi to print clearly. Most sessions were taught by Glenn School Ph.D. students who, like Eckerd, have both taken and TA-ed the relevant economics or policy classes and could point out common pitfalls and mistakes new students make.
These review sessions—originally dubbed “Math Camp”—were first offered before the 2009-10 school year, the same year that the Glenn School eliminated prerequisites in microeconomics, statistics, and American government for incoming students. Professor Robert Greenbaum, a two-year member of the boot camp planning team, explained that professors were concerned that students admitted without experience in economics and statistics would be confused or overwhelmed when classes began. Boot camp was designed to offer help to incoming students, provide opportunities for Ph.D. students to teach, and allow incoming students to meet and bond before the start of school. Greenbaum says he saw the bonding effect of boot camp this year at the Glenn School orientation, where he noted many more students talking comfortably together than in previous years. Hopefully, the effects will extend to students’ class work.
Attending boot camp sessions gave me some peace of mind by reintroducing essential vocabulary and reviewing skills that have gone a bit rusty.