By Daryl Yang | Images provided by Asst Prof Jessica Hanser, Aleithia Low and Weave for Yale-NUS College
Every Wednesday evening, Assistant Professor of Humanities (History) Jessica Hanser co-teaches a class with a student. However, instead of the classroom, this takes place at the dance studio.
Together with Yale-NUS student Shanice Nicole Stanislaus (Class of 2017), Dr Hanser has been leading a Zumba class for the past three years.
“When I first started teaching at Yale-NUS, I found out about a group of students who were doing Zumba together by following YouTube tutorials. Since I had been doing Zumba for seven years, I decided to join them,” she recounted. The College sponsored a certification programme for Dr Hanser to become a Zumba trainer and she has been teaching it since.
Dr Hanser (left) and her mother
Reflecting on how she started Zumba, Dr Hanser jokingly shared that she initially did not want to go with her mother who had asked her along to a Zumba class. “At first, I didn’t want to do it because I thought it was something for old people. After that first class, I fell in love with it and have been doing it for about 3 times a week ever since,” she shared. Coincidentally, Dr Hanser hails from Florida, where Zumba originated.
Shanice had been attending the Zumba classes organised by Dr Hanser since the first lesson. She decided to take over the classes when Dr Hanser took a sabbatical about three years ago.
“I have never tried Zumba before but when I first joined Dr Hanser’s class, I really enjoyed it. Subsequently, she had to leave for Israel for a semester to conduct research. This meant that no one was able to teach Zumba! She then decided to coach me on how to teach Zumba, which I found both enriching and nerve-wrecking,” Shanice said.
“When she came back, we both realised how fun it was to co-teach because we both brought different styles to the class. It was also less nerve-wrecking because we both supported each other when we taught. I have been co-teaching with her for the past two and a half years,” Shanice said. Dr Hanser also shared that she “appreciated having the opportunity to collaborate with students and to also learn from them”.
Having never taken an academic class with Dr Hanser, Shanice shared that Dr Hanser is “one of the most nurturing and supportive people that she has met.”
“She became not just my mentor in Zumba but also a great friend who has helped me to grow so much,” she reflected. “I think we always see our professors as professors in the classroom but through Zumba, I realised that professors are very much like students. They also feel stressed about having to tackle a million things!”
Another faculty member who is actively involved in on-campus activities is Tan Chin Tuan Professor of Chinese Studies Scott Cook. Professor Cook is often seen at the basketball court training with the Yale-NUS Men’s Basketball team about three times a week.
His involvement started when the team was short of one player to participate in the semi-finals of the Inter-Faculty Games at the National University of Singapore (NUS) as some students on the team were away for a trip abroad. Dr Cook also plays with the NUS Staff Team as well as with other faculty members from Kent Vale, a staff and faculty residence.
“Some of the students on the team were already aware that I played basketball, partially because I had gotten to know them at Chinese-language table during lunches at the dining hall. It turned out that the team was going to be short of players for the IFG semi-final game, so they asked if I could join them in playing that game. I enthusiastically agreed and we ended up winning it.”
According to Zach Mahon (Class of 2017), who had first asked Dr Cook to play for the team, he describes him as a key player and that the team is not the same without him.
“It is the moments when he comes back to the basketball court after having been on sabbatical or away at a conference that you feel the joy and team spirit in the air. It’s a wonderful feeling and everyone is so happy to have him as a part of our team.”
Another member of the basketball team, Jonathan Chan (Class of 2019), added that having a faculty member on the team complements Yale-NUS’ mantra of integrating living with learning.
“Sports are an excellent way of bringing people together and playing sports with a professor makes him seem more approachable. There is a more open dynamic relationship between us which I think helps in learning, In this approach, the student views the professor as a friend and does not feel constrained about asking questions, as one might in a classroom setting,” he shared.
Dr Hanser also noted that sporting activities like Zumba are important because it was a space to “relax and distress”. An advice she offers to students when preparing for finals is to spare some time to exercise, no matter how busy they may be.
“Exercising helps you to be more focused and positive so that you can keep writing or studying,” she said. “It should be the last thing you should sacrifice when you are busy. When you exercise, the endorphins are released and I think that helps to make it easier to write and overcome writer’s block.”