Before glass can be shaped, it has to be heated. Here, during the "Introduction to Glassblowing" course, a large flame is used to melt colored glass from a stringer onto a segment of clear tubing in preparation for creating a blown glass ornament with a colorful spiral design on the outside.


J-Term back to (a new) normal

After having been curtailed to various degrees for the last two years, January Term (or “J-Term”) at NCSSM operated as designed in 2023, with in-person instruction and international and domestic  travel all sharing space in the course offerings.

This year’s iteration also marked the very first time that students from NCSSM-Morganton participated in their own J-Term courses. Even more novel for J-Term is that a number of students from Morganton and Durham took courses on the other campus.

Long a tradition at NCSSM (though called Special Projects Week and Mini-Term in decades past), J-Term provides students with a four-week break from the usual class schedule to delve deeply into a project of special interest. Nearly 90 courses were offered on the Durham campus, and more than 30 on the Morganton campus, ranging from intensive lab experiences to classroom explorations in the social sciences and humanities. Students and faculty took learning trips ranging from the western and northern United States to Central America, East Asia, North Africa and Europe. 

Throughout J-Term, students and faculty advisors documented their experiences with photographs; we’ve curated a selection of the best here.

Believe it or not, this brown muck is actually recycled brown paper pulp which, after drying, will become paper again in Morganton’s “The Art of Handmade Books” J-Term. Meanwhile in the background, a student uses a blender to disintegrate boiled paper fibers.
Students in the “Ocean Science” course use a seine net to sample the biodiversity of the Cape Fear Estuary at Fort Fisher Basin near Kure Beach, NC. The students found Mummichog killifish, silverside minnows, crabs, hermit crabs, shrimp, and snails. The highest diversity was observed in the shallow areas closest to the marsh.
Students in the “Science of Breadmaking” J-Term learned not only how to bake four different kinds of bread, but also about the chemistry and microbiology of bread. The students met with scientists from NC State, including a wheat breeder, a yeast biologist, and a microbial ecologist.
Students in “How Birds Work: An Introduction to Ornithology and Birdwatching” explored the anatomy, physiology, evolutionary history, taxonomy, and environmental significance of birds all while learning how to identify and observe birds in the field.
As part of the “Communities in Nature” course, students visited the ancestral lands of retired judge Beverly Scarlett, an Afro-Indigenous community leader whose Black ancestors were enslaved at Hardscrabble Plantation and whose Indigenous ancestors lived on the same land. Here, students stand with Scarlett amongst Indigenous burial mounds as she reads from a historical document about the tradition of indigenous people laying rocks on the graves of their deceased.
Taught by NCSSM-Durham’s residential Certified Flight Instructor, the “Intro to Aviation” course provided students with an introduction to several topics which pilots much learn. For those interested in continuing their path to earning a pilot certificate, the instruction they received here may count toward the FAA-required training.
In “Batteries for the Zombie Apocalypse,” students built home-made batteries of various designs from household materials. Several of the batteries seen here, whose design was inspired by some of the earliest batteries used by chemists in the early 1800s, ran lights continuously for more than three days.
Students in the “Exploring Durham Through Architecture and History” course stand in front of the Hayti Heritage Center, a cultural arts and arts education facility in the historic Hayti community near downtown Durham. Formerly the home of the St. Joseph’s AME Church (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the center preserves and advances the heritage and culture of Durham’s Hayti community and the African-American experience through programs that benefit the broader community on a local, national, and global scale.
In “Mechanobiology: The Biophysics of Cells,” students investigated the biological cell from a physics and engineering perspective: the cell as a machine. As part of that investigation, they constructed models of amino acids atom by atom and placed them on white boards with their names, chemical, and structural formulas. These white boards were mixed and matched to group amino acids into various property categories created by the students.
The ’70s and ’80s saw the revolution of personal computing, the Internet’s explosion marked the ’90s, and the 2000s saw the emergence of the smartphone. Students in the “History of Personal Computers” course looked at how those decades of exponential improvement in personal computing thoroughly altered every aspect of modern society. They also found that the mechanical keyboards on relics such as IBM’s very first PC model pictured here made a very loud and strangely satisfying “clicky” sound.
Among other activities, students in the NCSSM-Morganton “Audio/Digital Music Production” J-Term travelled to Asheville to tour the Moog Factory where they learned how Bob Moog, the inventor of the first commercially used synthesizer, used his education as an engineer to pioneer electronic music. Students in this photo were experimenting with various Moog synthesizers.
Generative art is most commonly thought of as artwork created by an autonomous system reacting to an external stimuli or input. In the “Generative Art” course, students created generative art by using computers to create visual art via procedural algorithms, such as in this image where a visualizer is creating animated imagery in real time in response to notes played on a keyboard piano by a student.
The presentations of slide shows are an integral part of establishing sustainable communities on worlds other than our own. In “Colonizing the Solar System & Beyond,” students used group discussions, readings, research, hands-on activities, and group problem solving to develop a plan to spread humanity to the planets and stars.
Students use an aquatic kick-net to sample the benthic macroinvertebrate population in the Eno River as part of the “Environmental Science Field Course” J-Term. Macroinvertebrates are used to determine the overall water quality of the stream using an Index of Biotic Integrity. Some of the macroinvertebrates live in the stream permanently, and others only spend their early years in the river and then emerge to become flying adults. The more pollution-intolerant organisms found, the better the water quality of the stream. Based on the students’ findings, the Eno is rated “excellent.”
Students in the “Fencing (with Swords)” course in Morganton practice their thrust and lunge under the supervision of their instructor.
Innovative scientific investigations require new tools, and it’s engineers who build them. In the “Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery” course, students prototyped scientific instruments and other smart devices with sensors, microcontrollers, and single board computers. Here, they work on Arduino projects in preparation for the design and construction process.
Students in the “Historical Geology” course explored layered sandstone in southwestern Virginia that is around 360 million years old. The sandstone contains a Turbidite deposit — a layer of sediment deposited by currents of water flowing rapidly down a slope — and provides evidence that the western edge of the Appalachian mountains was once a coastline.
In Durham’s “Encounters With Trees” J-Term course, students went out into a different local nature preserve each day to learn how to identify local trees and plants as well as explore the many emotional and intellectual benefits that accrue from spending quiet time in a forest. Along they way, they also encountered plenty of large rocks as well.
This is what funny looks like. After two weeks of learning the ins and outs of comedy writing in the J-Term “How to Write Comedy,” students presented a five-minute sketch of original material in a show called “Comedy Under Construction Night.”
Students in the “Roots of Caribbean Food” course prepare Rellenos de Papas (filled potatoes), a traditional dish from Cuba; and Flan de Leche (caramel flan), which was brought to Latin America and the Caribbean by Spanish conquistadors.
Students stand atop Roan Mountain during the J-Term course “The Nature and Culture of Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An Introduction to Environmental History.” During the course they explored the Spruce-Fir and Mountain Bald ecosystems typical in and around the area. Standing atop the mountain gave students the opportunity to “read the landscape” of the Black Mountains and gain a better understanding of how the interactions of nature and culture have shaped the landscape.
Sustainable farming and high welfare livestock production were central parts of the “Cow Farts (Sustainable Farming)” course held on the farm of an NCSSM alumna and veterinarian. Here, students make the rounds and prepare feed for the farm’s ducks.
Among other things, students in the “Our Place in Nature: Costa Rica” J-Term learned about the chocolate making process at La Iguana Farm in Mastatal, Costa Rica. Here, they use a traditional method to grind cacao seeds grown and roasted right on the farm. They could then add sugar and other flavors like vanilla and chile (in the glass vials) to create a refreshing chocolate drink.
In this picture, students in the “Exploring Exotic Morocco” J-Term try their hand at pouring traditional Moroccan mint tea while trying cultural snacks. After a morning of Arabic classes, the students took a short break before continuing with the activities of the day.