After years of conversations about First Year Initiatives (FYIs) amongst faculty, staff, and students, the FYI program is in the process of being formally discussed by the Educational Policy Committee (EPC). Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Professor of Classical Studies and Chair of the EPC, decided to resuscitate the discussion about FYIs in order to obtain new input about the program’s direction.

“As with so many things, sometimes it’s good to just pause and take a look at it with fresh eyes,” he said. “This is such an important part of the curriculum for so many students.”

Benedict Bernstein ’09, Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee of the WSA and a student member of the EPC, has been hoping to revive the FYI conversation for three years because of the confusion he feels surrounds the program.

“It’s not clear to a lot of people what the FYI program is, or if it’s even a program or just a label,” he said. “It’s not clear that FYIs are doing something different academically than other courses.”

Thus far, the only formal discussion about the FYI program has been a meeting during the fall semester of faculty who had taught FYIs.

“It was basically a brainstorming session,” said Sean McCann, Professor of English and Director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, who organized the meeting. “In my role as director of the Center I’m interested in what works or doesn’t work.”

The meeting, while only the beginning of the FYI discussion, clarified some general opinions about FYIs.

“What became clear is that people really thought it would be very useful to have one faculty member to help organize it, to help organize discussions among people who are teaching FYIs and maybe get some student feedback,” Szegedy-Maszak said. “That involves a lot of time. It’s not an elected position—the person would have to be appointed by Joe Bruno [Vice President of Academic Affairs].”

In addition, Szegedy-Maszak said that the faculty involved in the meeting made it clear that they were not interested in having a unifying theme for all FYIs. However, Szegedy-Maszak said that having FYIs teach specific college-level skills may be a theme that the EPC would want to discuss.

“The broader purpose of the FYIs when they were initiated had been to introduce new students to college level work,” he said. “Things like writing, taking part in class discussions, or analyzing a work of literature or an economics problem take on a different level of seriousness when you’re at a university. But that is so vague that it would be a good idea to get the people who would be teaching such courses together to talk about what they would like to accomplish and how they would like to set up the curriculum for their individual courses.”

In bringing the topic of FYIs to the discussion board, the EPC hopes to receive student and faculty feedback, and to potentially find a clearer direction in which to take the program.

“It’s not something we’re going to finish this year,” said Bernstein. “In the next few years, I would like to have a clear articulation of what the FYI program is to allow the program to grow and improve. The question is, what is the student ideal of what an FYI should be?”

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