September 21, 2021

MEHLER | The Secret of One- and Two-Credit Classes

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Cornell gives every student the opportunity to take classes that only give one or two graded credits.  Taking advantage of them can make your Cornell education that much richer.

At the University’s founding, Ezra Cornell wrote to A.D. White that he “would found an institution in which any person can find instruction in any study.” Over 150 years later, Ezra’s dream is close to realized. Cornell is an institution offering almost 80 majors, over 120 minors and over 4,000 unique classes across over 100 departments. For folks unsatisfied with the options, we even have College Scholars who create their own major. We are as close as we can get to “any study.”

But even among all these classes, students still find themselves taking the same small sector of courses. Yes, we have our required massive lectures with 400+ other students such as ECON 1110: Intro Microeconomics, 1101: Intro Psychology, and CS1110: Intro to Computing Using Python, but even in our electives you can hear students chat about the same handful of courses. Many of these courses have phenomenal professors who are at the top of their field; their high praise and waitlisted rosters are incredibly warranted.  However, many of these courses are taken to check boxes.  I myself am a victim of picking a course not because of its fascinating contents but because it knocks out two minors and an advanced elective all at once. I wish to make the case for the secret gems within Cornell academia: one- and two-credit courses.

One- and two-credit courses rarely shine on our course rosters. They are hidden in small departments, seldom publicized and most of the time fail to list who teaches the course. But, these courses remain some of the most invigorating, thought-provoking, engaging and impactful classes that most Cornellians have never even heard of. I have fortunately taken many one- and two-credit courses in my past two years here and I am here to encourage you all to do the same. 

Firstly, an institution such as Cornell attracts fascinating guest lectures and current professionals who want to share their knowledge, insights and career paths. This past Fall, I took a one-credit baseball salary arbitration course co-taught by the major league operations directors of the Red Sox, Mets, Marlins and Rockies along with senior labor lawyers who focused on sports arbitration. In  a four-day course—one filled to the brim with lectures, an arbitration simulation, and writing an arbitrator’s award—I learned more about the arbitration field and being a labor lawyer than in two full years of courses. I am even more thankful that this semester, I will be taking another one-credit, four-day course with the country’s most prolific arbitrator and namesake of Cornell’s Scheinman Institute. These brief, low credit courses connect students with the titans of industries and allow us to glimpse into the workplaces we hope to enter.

Secondly, one- and two-credit courses, especially the seven week two-credit courses, waste no time. With only seven weeks or less to teach as much content as possible, lecturers cannot dole out busywork.  Every reading, paper and assignment remains paramount to understanding the course’s key teachings. Without busywork, the courses simply require less work. Students can rest easier at night knowing that they just have a fifteen-page paper due at the end of the course rather than a menial task three times a week. Having more flexibility in when to work on and complete assignments is a dream we all constantly wish for; these classes provide that. The work assigned in these courses is always invigorating and encourages thoughtful engagement with the lecturers and the course content.

Finally, one- and two-credit courses allow students to truly explore the niches they are interested in. For a two-credit course this past Spring, I prepared to virtually travel to, and then worked for, a nongovernmental organization in Karnataka, India focusing on building human and social capital. This semester, I am taking another two-credit course with the founder of that same organization on his views of development in India and the global east.  Even if the current one- and two-credit courses do not appeal to you as a student, creating an independent study in what you are interested in continues to be a straightforward and easy process as well. After virtually traveling to and having discussions with students at Ton Duc Thang University in Vietnam this past winter, I completed a two-credit independent study on labor arbitration within the Vietnamese labor code. I learned so much on a topic I would never have explored otherwise. These courses and independent studies allow students to delve into topics they never would have investigated, and even allow them to complete individual research on the few things that temporarily remain not taught by professors.

If I can leave you with one message: take advantage of one- and two-credit courses at Cornell. It can be as niche and specific as baseball salary arbitration or as open ended as discussing the global solution to increasing human capital. Not every university offers such broad and exciting small classes as Cornell does. These classes differentiate us and provide opportunities impossible elsewhere.  So, take a one- or two-credit class.  Your Cornell education will become that much richer. 

Patrick J. Mehler is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. His column The Mehl-Man Delivers runs every other Tuesday this semester.