Norris Mini Courses open for the quarter

Chris Meyer

Everything in the ARTica Studio is stained with paint, including the worn carpet and the repurposed water jugs that litter the table. Ingrid Albrecht, the class instructor, paces slowly through the room, occasionally edging around the dilapidated shelves holding coats in the back.

“Freshness equals one stroke,” says Albrecht, reiterating one of the quotations she has taped to the wall of the studio. “Too many strokes make a dead painting.”

Albrecht’s watercolor painting course is among the first of this term’s Norris Mini Courses, which began Monday. Mini Courses are open to all members of the Northwestern and Evanston communities and offer instruction in recreational activities ranging from hip-hop dancing to ceramics. Most courses cost about $100 for NU students and do not count as course credit. The prices rise by about $10 for non-students.

Mini Courses are marketed as a casual and relaxed method to acquire skills involved with a variety of hobbies without the stress of graded work. This can often be a relief for both overworked students and curious adults, said Aurelia Clunie, head of the Mini Course office.

“For a long time, our slogan was ‘Learn something you’ve always wanted to learn,'” Clunie said. “Sometimes people want a risk-free environment to refresh old experiences and others are just generally interested. They are curious but don’t want any consequences.”

Although Mini Courses are marketed as stress-free alternatives to regular courses, they have proven to be less popular among undergraduate students than among graduate students and members of the Evanston community, Clunie said. Eight of the nine people in Albrecht’s watercolor painting course were either graduate students or adults.

“I took a Mini Course in tai chi last quarter, and there was only one other girl my age in the class,” said Communication sophomore Courtney Kansler, the only undergraduate student in the watercolor course. “I guess it just feels like another obligation to some students.”

Weinberg freshman Jacob Skaggs agreed. He said none of the current course offerings appeal to him, but even if they did, he is not willing to take on yet another commitment.

Clunie said the Mini Courses office attempts to market towards all demographics, including undergraduate students and Evanston residents, but there seems to be greater interest in the office’s course offerings among graduate students. However, adults without any affiliation to NU are also drawn to the Mini Course program.

Vidkya Narasimhan, an Evanston resident who recently emigrated from India, said she and her husband learned of the courses online and signed up for “a bunch.”

“I’ve always wanted to get into painting, and this lets me do that,” she said.

This allure may be the result of the Mini Course program’s affordability. A typical Mini Course ceramics class can be up to two-thirds cheaper than a similar offering in Evanston, and the University often furnishes the Mini Course office with the necessary supplies, Clunie says.

Despite the relatively low popularity of the courses among undergraduate students, enrollment in Mini Courses has actually increased over the last year. Clunie said this is a welcome development for the Mini Courses office, which cancels classes if enrollment is too low.

“It has been higher enrollment this quarter,” Clunie said. “In the last three quarters we’ve had to cancel fewer and fewer classes.”

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