Getting students engaged and eager to learn about topics they wouldn't otherwise be exposed to is the foundation of a great college of liberal arts, and is at the core of Sacred Heart’s new First Year Seminar program, which also stresses students mastering the writing and communications skills essential for academic and career success.
Anchored by two classes every first-year will take — one of many diverse and innovative freshman seminars along with The Art of Thinking that focus on logic and critical-thinking — the program is designed to provide new students with not just solid academic abilities, but a desire to become:
- Strong and effective writers
- Dynamic, self-confident speakers
- Clearer and more creative thinkers
- More engaged, self-sufficient learners
- Active members of a vibrant, scholarly community
Created by Dr. Seamus Carey, dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences, the program involves full-time professors from throughout the university teaching lively classes about topics they feel passionate about and that incorporate the intensive academic writing and public speaking requirements that Sacred Heart formerly required freshmen to master via EN 110 and 111.
Piloted this past spring and given rave reviews from staff and students alike, the First-Year Seminar gives Fall 2012 freshmen the broad experience of a college of liberal arts by providing the opportunity to enroll in one of more than 50 seminars that tackle topics as diverse as “The Mystery of Human Consciousnesses,” “The Love Seminar,” “The Structure of Social Injustice” and “Tattoos and Tangled Lines: American Sailors and the Quest for an American Identity.”
Taught in small groups of 12-15 with the students and professor sitting around a seminar table, rather than at desks as in a traditional classroom, classes are additionally unique in that they all, in some way, directly relate to today’s students’ lives and our ever-changing society. Also, rather than be taught by part-time staff who are only on campus for a few hours each week, all First-Year Experience classes are taught by full-time professors who also serve as freshman advisers and are committed to shepherding students through their undergraduate years.
Carey believes that like students who participated in the pilot program, freshmen will end the semester with higher writing skills and competencies, greater self-confidence in their speaking abilities and a stronger belief in, and understanding of, their critical thinking abilities.
“One of Sacred Heart’s many strengths is its strong sense of community, and this program only enhances that,” Carey said. “Students are given the opportunity, from their very first semester, to take a class that they have a real interest in, as well as to learn from a professor who has genuine interest in the topic. When students see their professor getting excited about learning, they’re going to get excited, too. We want to give our freshman not just the strong writing and speaking skills they need to be successful, but a desire for lifelong learning and scholarly pursuits, which is also so very important.”
Awareness that writing and critical inquiry are indispensable aspects of all disciplines, and not just literature, is also key.
To complement the program in our college of liberal arts, Sacred Heart is developing SHUsquare, a virtual public square that will give students the opportunity to post video blogs, start conversations and host ongoing forums.
“Individuals who develop a passion for learning, conversation and reaching out to others will be successful not just in school, but in all they do,” Carey added. “One of the most important skills we teach our students is how to communicate, which is at the very heart of the First-Year Experience program.”