Mini Courses, Big Lessons

One of the best things about Northwestern is the wide variety of courses available for students. But if you’ve been itching to learn about something not strictly academic – like, say, mixology or acupressure massage – it might be a bit tricky to find a class on Caesar that fits the bill. Cue Norris Mini Courses. Most courses meet once a week for six weeks and cover a wide range of topics, everything from stage makeup and knitting to belly dancing and Cherokee language. And as a bonus – since you don’t have to worry about them affecting your GPA, you can take a Mini Course purely for the fun of learning something new.

Mini Courses have become a Northwestern tradition. They’ve been offered since 1973, and since then they’ve allowed members of the Northwestern and greater Evanston communities to continue learning beyond the classroom. Aside from being a great way to enjoy a stress-free learning environment, Mini Courses are a perfect way to relax and have fun during the hectic school week. Registration is open until April 15, but if you miss that you can still register late for a course until 24 hours before the first meeting. You can register online through the Norris Box Office website or visit the Box Office on the Norris first floor to sign up in person.

Before you decide which course to enroll in, read on to learn more about four of the awesome Mini Course instructors.

Cartoon Storytelling with Steven Fischer

 cartoon By Steven Fischer

cartoon By Steven Fischer

Steven Fischer drew his first comic book at age six, and his passion for animation has been going strong since then. “Cartoons are a lot more than gag-of-the-day. They have a lot more potential than that. They have the potential for communicating and expressing personal thoughts, important thoughts, dramatic thoughts,” Fischer explained. He currently works as an independent writer and producer of live action films, but he stays involved in cartooning through freelance commissioned work and his own projects, like his book The Wonderful, Happy, Cartoony World of Steve & Bluey.

Fischer brings his years of experience and passion for the art form to Cartoon Storytelling. “As long as you can draw a stick figure and you're open to new things, you can take the class,” Fischer said. “There is no right or wrong, there's just the ideas you have at that moment and the level you are at at the moment of creation.” The course explores creativity, narrative arcs, character creation, and drawing. Students will even delve into the more philosophical aspects of cartoons. “A cartoon by definition is anything that simplifies reality. When we reduce reality to its most simple form, there are a lot of blank spaces,” he said. “We fill in those blank spaces with something of ourselves... That is very powerful.”

Sketchbook with Stephanie Lupu

 Sketchbook Student working during class

Sketchbook Student working during class

Stephanie Lupu teaches her Sketchbook I – Graphite and Charcoal Drawing class with one main purpose in mind: getting her students to stop thinking so much. “If they over analyze their artwork, I’ll say, ‘I’m going to take your brain out and put it on the shelf over there,’” she joked. “It’s supposed to be about relaxing, having some fun, making some artwork, and honing your craft.” No matter what your experience level with drawing is, Lupu will help you do just that through her Sketchbook class. Even students who say they haven’t drawn in years, said Lupu, “They’re all artists. They all have it inside them and they didn’t know they had it inside them.”

Before long, her students will be moving from simple still life drawings of gourds on a table to more complicated works. Whatever they’re working on, Lupu hopes her students will approach their drawings with their own unique flair. “A lot of times people, especially in the arts, are told, ‘You have to do things this [certain] way. You have to make a formula, and if you can’t follow that formula, then somehow you’ve failed as an artist,’” she explained. “I always thought that was dumb.” In Sketchbook I, you’ll throw that outlook on art out the window and learn to use drawing for self expression.

Baking Fundamentals with Paula Evans

 A Baking fundamentals students shows off her final product

A Baking fundamentals students shows off her final product

Baking from scratch, Paula Evans worries, is a lost art. However, “I think it's something that more and more people are getting into – making things from scratch – for health reasons. Certainly I don't tell anyone that my desserts are healthy or low in calories; I don't make that promise,” she said with a laugh. After owning a bakery and catering company for eight years, Evans turned her passion for baking to teaching. She’s been teaching baking classes for the past four years, including several classes for children. As a common practice in those classes, she would pass around a package of store bought cookies. “Kids and even adults would read the ingredients and get to things that they couldn't pronounce,” she said. “I'd remind them that this is what they're putting in their body...If you bake from scratch, you know what butter, flour, sugar and eggs are.”

Through her course, Evans hopes participants will learn practical skills that have a cultural value too. “I encourage people, even if they're intimidated, to try it and to not be discouraged if it doesn't work out well the first time,” she said. “Hopefully it'll be something that they'll fall in love with or if not fall in love, then they'll at least know how to do it and pass it on to the next generation or enjoy it with their families. It's something that I like to think will get passed down from generation to generation.”

Billiards for Beginners with Larry Schwartz

Learn to school your friends at pool in Larry Schwartz’s Billiards for Beginners. Participants will learn several games, and spend their time in classes exploring strategy and techniques but also having fun playing and bonding with other participants.

“I knew I loved the game of pool the first time I walked into a pool hall,” Schwartz said. “I started playing competitively at the age of 16. I played and learned from some of the greatest players in the game. I have traveled the country studying the game for the last 48 years.” Perhaps most notably, Schwartz played in the International Pro Tour from 2005-07, a competition that includes only the best 150 players from around the world. Since then, Schwartz decided he wanted to “give back to the game” by teaching new players the ropes. “I love teaching and watching people improve their game,” Schwartz explained. The best part, he says is “watching the expressions on student's faces when they make shots that they thought were impossible.”

 Larry Schwartz and his Billiards for Beginners students

Larry Schwartz and his Billiards for Beginners students