Record number of students flocked to virtual Summer Term 2020

students studying with laptops at kitchen table

The pandemic didn’t stop Badgers from learning, connecting and moving closer to achieving their academic goals this summer during the first fully virtual Summer Term.

A record 10,900 undergraduate students enrolled in virtual Summer Term 2020, up 18 percent from 2019. They chose from more than 900 online and remote courses for more than 27,000 course enrollments.

“Our students continue to show resiliency and dedication,” says UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “We’re proud to have provided a Summer Term that offered them a place to belong and pursue their goals during a challenging time.”

For more than a decade, Summer Term has offered online instruction in a wide variety of subjects. This year, students picked from more online and remote courses than ever. They found in-demand courses, worked on challenging subjects and took prerequisites for grad school. But outside of academics, they also used Summer Term to hold fast to their Badger roots during an unprecedented time.

  • Bryanna Plaisir, senior theater and math major, has enrolled in Summer Term courses every summer to stay on track for graduation this spring. This summer, she took math and computer programming courses and did an internship.
  • Abriela Thiel, a sophomore journalism major, used FaceTime to connect with UW–Madison friends, consulted with advisors to determine what courses to take, and turned to UW Libraries for a course project.
  • Senior nursing student Eric Schiller kept up with Summer Term professors via email and live lectures and discussed coursework with his nursing cohort in a group chat.

Staying on track

Students racked up almost 80,000 credit hours, all virtual, during Summer Term 2020.

UW–Madison faculty and instructors developed engaging material, including lab-based courses that allowed students to explore scientific concepts from wherever they were spending their summer. Food Science 120: Science of Food had students doing at-home experiments that included candy tasting. In Kinesiology 361: Motor Learning and Performance, students studied movement by playing games and using household items to demonstrate essential concepts.

Henry Lee and unidentified woman sitting at table with laptops
Henry Lee, a sophomore food science major from Lisle, Illinois, took an ethnobotany course during Summer Term 2020. He was also a teaching assistant for the CALS QuickStart program.

Summer Term also offered the opportunity for students to make progress on certificates. The Summer Certificate in Business Fundamentals, providing basic business education to students pursuing majors outside of the Wisconsin School of Business, was designed to be completed over multiple Summer Terms, making it a flexible and popular option.

Incoming first-year students got a head start on academics with the Wisconsin Experience Summer Launch (WESL). Now in its second year, WESL hosted 122 incoming freshmen, up 139 percent from last year. This eight-week online program allowed new students to earn college credit and begin to build their Badger community before they set foot on campus.

In the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, 139 first-year students were admitted to CALS QuickStart, up 35 percent from last summer. And 36 transfer students started their UW–Madison career as part of a pilot program, the Transfer Student Early Start, this summer.

Cultivating connection

Students jumped at the chance to stay connected to campus over the summer. Sophomore English major Grace VanDyke, who took four courses, used video and email to stay connected with her professors, who she says were “extremely understanding and created courses that were well-designed for the online format.”

She credits her courses and campus connections for creating a new version of “normal” during an unusual time.

“My courses helped me engage with the world around me through community exploration, in-depth research and examination of my own identity,” she says. “It was really important to feel like I was part of something since everything changed so rapidly.”

In a questionnaire of more than 1,400 Summer Term students, more than 1,000 said they stayed connected with professors — primarily via Canvas or email. They also kept in contact with Badger peers via video chats, texting and social media.

Jaitri Joshi took two courses and served as a peer leader for Integrated Science 375. A junior majoring in biochemistry and life sciences communication, she and her classmate set up Zoom calls to study before exams.

“I used the Memorial Union Terrace as my background to make me feel a little more at home,” Joshi says. “I liked to study at home outside, where I had a view of the water. It’s no Mendota, but it lasted me until I came back to campus!”

Getting support      

In the Summer Term questionnaire, students listed their advisor as a strong point of connection to the university. In addition to advising, Badgers tapped into UW–Madison Libraries, the Writing Center, the Division of Information Technology, the McBurney Disability Resource Center, University Health Services and other campus services for help from a distance.

Lisa Klein sitting at a table on a patio
Junior Lisa Klein, from Deerfield, Illinois, took four science courses during Summer Term 2020, including an introductory organic chemistry lab, to support her majors in biology and life sciences communication.

To provide additional support through the economic impacts of COVID-19, Summer Term increased scholarships to students, making it even more accessible to take summer courses. In 2020, more than 1,600 students received the Undergraduate Scholarship for Summer Study, up 65 percent from 2019. More than 100 seniors finishing their UW–Madison degrees during Summer Term received the Summer Finish Scholarship, up 47 percent from last year.

“We continue to ensure that Summer Term offers an accessible, flexible and engaging way for students to continue to pursue academics goals,” Blank says. “Whether they are studying on the Terrace or in their living room at home, students have shown us that Summer Term is an important part of their Wisconsin experience.”

For information on Summer Term 2021, visit the Summer Term website or email summerterm@wisc.edu.