Recession buster: A Rutgers course for $1
Rutgers Recreation rolls out a new Dollar Menu program of one-session, eclectic classes.
With a crisp dollar bill you can buy half a gallon of gas, one-third of a tall mocha latte or one-sixth of a movie ticket if you’re willing to settle for an afternoon matinee.
Or you can learn the esoteric art of underwater basket weaving from a Rutgers scuba instructor who is donating his time and his expertise to a new initiative of the university’s Department of Recreation.
Dubbed Dollar Menu, the series of noncredit, one-shot classes offers members of the Rutgers community the chance to explore such diverse undertakings as stunt fighting, candlelight yoga, video-game design, and creating 3-D visual illusions.
Oh, and did we mention “Finding the Sex Goddess Within,” billed as a way to explore issues of body image and perception through interactive activities that address gender, identity, and sexuality?
This eclectic educational menu is the brainchild of Diane Bonanno, executive director of recreation and community development at Rutgers and a self-described product of the’60s, the era of the “free university.”
“Back then, it was a way for people to share their talents that had nothing to do with how they earned their living,” Bonanno said. “I got to thinking about it one day when I was wondering what we could do to accomplish three things: encourage students to experiment, find a way for faculty and staff to engage with students outside the classroom, and find a way for us to get ideas about what kinds of programs students would like.”
Seizing upon a cultural icon – almost every fast food chain in the country offers the enticement of a dollar menu, Bonanno reasoned – the director quickly reached out in search of courses that would be off the beaten track. Via email, she and her colleagues asked faculty and staff to stretch their imaginations. Guidelines? Only that the classes fit into a two- or 2½-hour framework and that they reflect a passion the participant was eager to share.
Barry Qualls, vice president for undergraduate education, knew immediately his piece of the action would involve baking of some sort. An ardent cook and a devotee of Julia Child, Qualls decided to offer a pair of Dollar Menu courses: “Puff Pastry Perfection” and “Doughn’t You Want To? Bread Baking Made Easy,” with colleague Rick Ludescher, professor in the Rutgers' Cook College Department of Food Science.
“I’m a very good cook, actually,” said Qualls, whose classes were among the first to fill up. “Not because I’m creative, but because I can read a cook book.”
Spread out over New Brunswick venues and slated from January 26 through April 18, the 50 classes are open to full-time students, faculty, and staff and, in some cases, to the public. Many sessions filled up immediately; the flood of participants interested in underwater basket weaving prompted a long waiting list, and a second session filled up in less than 24 hours.
“People had fun and most completed their baskets,” said John Lister, administrative supervisor for recreational services, after the first session February 2 at the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center. “We had two more experienced divers who got to work right away and finished first. The novices – most of the participants were breathing underwater for the first time – became acclimatized relatively quickly. Some demonstrated more dexterity with weaving the wicker than others and came up with creditable baskets. Others didn't quite get the hang of it.
The "I passed underwater basket weaving" T-shirts were a success, Lister said. “I think they were appreciated more than the baskets.”
Carmen Valverte, coordinator of the Recreation Classes Program, said the response to the first-time initiative overall has been robust. “We had 100 registrants even before the semester began, which tells us that people are checking our website. By January 20, we had more than 600 registrants – some people signed up for more than one course – both graduates and undergraduates,” she said.As her contribution to the project, Valverte taught “Ultimate Teamwork: Moving As One.” The class gave participants the opportunity to “explore and practice concepts of working toward common goals: leadership, followership, working together, and sensitivity while learning basic movements in ballroom dancing.”
One appeal of the Dollar Menu is that it allows students to see professors and administrators in a whole new light, Valverte said, helping build community in the process.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring together students, professors and deans in sharing their interests and hobbies with each other,” agreed the editors of Targum, the Rutgers daily newspaper, who lauded the program in a January 29 editorial.
“The idea of becoming a sort of RU ‘dollar menu-naire’ is very appealing to students,” the editorial noted. “The success of the Dollar Menu shows promise that these programs will continue to be offered in the future, allowing students to explore new subjects and find people who share common interests with them. Laurels to the Rutgers University Department of Recreation and their great idea to offer students fun recreational activities at a price anybody can afford.”