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First Steps into a College Career

Posted on Friday, September 04, 2009

The First-Year experience would not be complete without its quintessential Seminar. Without regard for future major or minor choices, seminars were constructed around different faculty interests - from peace movements to ancient warfare, Mozart and rock-and-roll. Each seminar is designed to hone writing, speaking, critical thinking and other academic skills that students will draw upon throughout their careers at HWS. On Friday morning, discussions and assignments from these groups filled the academic buildings on campus.

Classes in First-Year Seminars are small, between 13 and 15 students, to allow for discussion and debate in an intimate group. Some are Linked Course-Learning Communities, in which students live in the same residence hall, forming a community; others are Learning Community Pods, two seminars of related subject matter with students living in the same residence hall. As a group, the Seminar classes will enjoy field trips, lectures and other special events throughout the academic year. A peek at some of the first-year experiences that began on Friday follows:

"Arts Smarts"

Inspired by Assistant Professor of English Rob Carson's interest in what he deems "the -isms" - classism, existentialism and magic realism to name just three - the seminar gives students, "a vocabulary and context on which to base their experiences," says Carson. "Students don't need to be English majors or painters or philosophers to study artistic movements. My seminar is about fostering a new way of thinking about the world." The course syllabus includes a number of plays, novels and poems, including "Ubu the King," which he calls a parody of "'Macbeth' with a touch of punk rock," Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," and Kushner's "Angels in America" -- read against a backdrop of art, music, film and architecture. "It's exciting to get to introduce students to these works and to steer them along an academic path they find interesting."

"Africa: Myths and Realities" and "Face to Face: Interrogating Race in the U.S. and South Africa"

"By examining the societies that produced segregation and apartheid, we'll address issues of race, class, gender and the multiplicity of cultures," explains Assistant Professor James McCorkle '76, a seasoned veteran of the First-Year Seminar program. The movie "Blood Diamond" piqued first-year Alexander Fabian's interest in South Africa. For classmate Chloe Renee Jensen '13, her interest came from high school history courses. "I want to get a deeper understanding of segregation in the United States and its connections to apartheid in South Africa," she says.

"Drawn to Nature"

Budding architect Matthew Bianco-Splann '13 signed up for this class because it brings together science and art. "Those were always my strong suits as a child," he says. The First-Year Seminar taught by Professor of Biology James Ryan explores the natural history of the Finger Lakes region using both scientific and artistic expression, helping students develop observational skills that will allow them to better describe the natural world in prose and art. 

"Code Making and Code Breaking"

"It may sound strange that code-breaking and literature could be intertwined, but cryptology can be used to detect language patterns, decipher hieroglyphics and even determine authorship of various literary works," says Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Stina Bridgeman, who is teaching the course. By studying a mixture of popular novels, modular arithmetic, technical literature, and number theory, she hopes that students will "use cryptology as a way to improve their logical thinking and writing."

"The Reality Effect"

Taught by Instructor and Writing Specialist Susan Hess, the course addresses how ‘we use stories, and how stories use." The seminar includes readings like the "9/11 Commission Report," the Iraq War blogs of rebelcoyote, NY Times "Lives" columns, and students' own writing, as well as theory like Le Guin's "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" and excerpts from Aristotle's "Poetics."

"I like to write, and I think the seminar will sharpen my skills," says Amanda Glatthorn '13 of New Canann, Conn.

"Facets of Islam"

Taught by Professor of History Susanne McNally, "Facets of Islam" critically explores the appeal of Islam, constructs a narrative of Islam in history, samples Islamic architecture, science, gardens and poetry, and confronts some problematic and troubling issues that divide the Muslim world view from the American. Already on his way to becoming a global citizen, William Weldon '13 explains that he's taking the course because, "I want to learn more about what's happening in the Middle East. As an American, I can't be ignorant of other cultures."

"Going Home"

Students investigate the issue of returning home, all the while living and studying together as part of a Learning Community. Under the tutelage of Associate Professor of Religious Studies Richard Salter '86, students will study "The Odyssey" and its "re-takes" and "re-makes," including "The Penelopiad."  As part of their Learning Community, students will also take "The Once and Future King" with Associate Professor of English Laurence Erussard, studying "The parallels between "The Odyssey" and Arthurian legends. "Going Home" will end with a policy discussion regarding veterans in the U.S. based on Jonathan Shay's "Odysseus in America," a psychoanalytic exploration of what it meant for Vietnam Veterans to return home after the War.

Click here for a complete list of First-Year seminars, or here for more information about Learning Communities.

Associate Professor of Religious Studies Richard Salter '86 is pictured above speaking with a student.

 


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