In an effort to improve freshmen programs and gear up for reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 2012, the University formed a committee composed of faculty this month to assess and suggest possible changes to First Year Initiative (FYI) seminars. The committee, chaired by Professor of Classics Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, will begin their evaluations by reviewing the success of previous FYIs. Offered in both the fall and the spring, FYI courses are geared towards freshmen and are often interdisciplinary in nature.
“The committee will be looking at how it’s been going for the past couple of years—how its been working for freshmen, whether it should be more coordinated or less coordinated, whether they should have a common theme,” said Provost Rob Rosenthal. “However, the committee has no particular agenda.”
The newly formed committee will meet for the first time on Thursday, and will be planning possible changes to the FYIs for the 2011-2012 academic year. Among the various ideas put forward so far, Szegedy-Maszak mentioned the incorporation of themes into the FYI program.
“The question is whether there is something that can be called a ‘First Year Initiative program’ or whether it’s just a scattered set of courses,” he said. “So I think one of the things the committee is going to be considering is whether we should try for perhaps a small subset of the courses to think about a number of themes without dictating content.”
Going further, Szegedy-Maszak suggested potentially having meetings between FYI classes with shared themes to promote more interaction between students in different classes. Students enrolled in these clustered courses could possibly meet together once a month for a shared event, such as a presentation by a faculty member or outsider speaker on a shared topic.
“I would like to experiment perhaps with having some of the FYIs think about a shared broader topic,” he said. “Faculty members who liked this idea were interested in seeing what would happen if we tried something that would engage the students and allow people in different classes to talk to each other.”
President Michael Roth said he supports the idea as well and emphasized the value of student opinion in the matter.
“We’re trying to get people who teach first-year students to talk to each other and see if there are some things we might try to make more interesting, some things they might think of doing together,” he said.
Roth pointed to the Institutes, or cluster classes, offered during this past year’s summer session as a potential model. Two courses with similar topics met both separately and jointly to discuss shared topics.
“I have more questions than answers about what the best First Year Program would be, but I do think it’s preferable to go beyond access to small classes and to include some jointly developed curricula,” Roth said.
Szegedy-Maszak is also considering giving sophomores their own version of FYIs and appointing a coordinator for the FYI courses.
“I think somebody could occasionally bring the professors in the courses together, if only to talk about how things are going among themselves and with people who are thinking of offering courses along those lines,” Szegedy-Maszak said. “At this point we simply don’t have a mechanism for that. One of the things I will be trying to do is to urge that a colleague be appointed to this position.”
According to Szegedy-Maszak, the regional accreditation committee has previously expressed interest in First Year programs at other colleges, which contributed to the formation of this committee.
“This is another thing that makes this a little bit more pressing,” Szegedy-Maszak said.
The eventual outcome of the committee’s decision and the future of the FYI program is unknown at this point, before the committee’s discussion gets underway.
“It is really important to have courses set aside for first year students,” Szegedy-Maszak said. and I’m really happy to be involved in this.”