August 31, 1998
Volume 51, No. 2
Freshman Seminar: same name, different meaning
In the next academic year Emory will commit itself fully to a new curriculum, but steps the University is taking this year to ease the transition are already affecting many of the 1,347 first-year students on campus.
In the past, "Freshman Seminar" has referred to the pre-major advising system for freshmen, in which faculty, staff and student mentors guide first-year students as they acclimate to life at Emory, with the faculty acting as the students' advisors until they choose a major. But the name--Freshman Seminar--has been appropriated for a brand new program, one that will give first-year students the opportunity to find out early on what a college-level, seminar-type course is like.
This year the college is offering about 30 new-curriculum courses called freshman seminars that are limited to 18 students each and ranging across disciplines from chemistry and classics to African studies and art history. Freshmen this year have a choice for their undergraduate careers at Emory; they may choose to fulfill either the new or the old distribution requirements. Those who choose the new curriculum are required to take a seminar course either this fall or next spring, and those who choose the old may still take a seminar as an elective.
"The seminar classes will be exciting," said College Dean Steven Sanderson. "It's something that's very uncommon at a large institution, more characteristic of a liberal arts education. They are designed to give the students a real, interactive, small-group experience, not a lecture format. Typically students don't get those types of experiences until later in their program."
Next year 75-80 seminars will be available, enough for all first-year students. These will be followed, Sanderson added, by "post-freshman" seminars, so that every senior will have had at least two seminar courses by graduation. Because the new curriculum has not been finalized, there may be some gray areas for those students choosing to follow it now, but Sanderson said the college will work with new-curriculum students to find analagous courses to satisfy their requirements.
The pre-major advising program now has a new name, Freshman Advising and Mentoring at Emory (FAME), and a slight shift in focus. In the past the program had a reading or intellectual component, but with freshmen now enrolling in freshman seminars, the need for such a requirement in FAME has eased somewhat, according to co-director Priscilla Echols, assistant dean of the college.
FAME matches up faculty, staff and one or two student leaders with a group of 16 to 20 freshmen. With orientation last week, the FAME groups worked closely together for a few days, and the groups will continue to meet weekly until the first week of November. Not only does the program introduce groups of freshmen to each other, it offers three or four possibilities for mentor relationships that can last far beyond the freshman year.
"Not all personalities interact the same, and that's one of the nice things about having multiple leaders," Echols said. "Ongoing conversations beyond this term may happen with one or more of us, but with that multiplicity of personality, the chemistry should strike with at least one of us. I still have students who write or e-mail me after graduation; that's how I want it to be."
FAME also has a service component in which students are required to participate in a local service project. "Teaching, research and service define the mission of the University," Echols said. "They didn't come to a bubble at Emory; they came to a vibrant university within a vibrant city that has the problems of any large city. We want to ensure that they know university life isn't confined to this campus."
For mentors, Echols recruits faculty and co-director Cynthia Shaw, director of student development for Campus Life, recruits staff. Academic Coordinator Tina McDowell keeps the operation running smoothly, even with 1,347 freshmen and another 250-plus mentors.
"We believe a proper advising context can help students get settled in the University in a way that will help them do their best work," Echols said. "[We're trying] to make sure the transition from high school to college is as successful as possible."