SHU Introduces Unique Freshman Seminars

News Story: September 1, 2011

This academic year could mean the beginning of a unique and exciting core curriculum change at Sacred Heart University and possibly an end to another, as the University announces the launching of a brand new pilot program geared to its freshman curriculum.

The initiative, which was the brainchild of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Seamus Carey, is proposing to eliminate the University’s English 110 program, also known as Academic Writing, and replace it with several new seminar style classes for all incoming freshmen. These new classes, which will be limited to 15 students, will be held in new seminar rooms with students and faculty interacting around seminar tables.  The seminars will replace the old classroom setting with an interactive, out-of-the-box, approach to learning.

The new pilot program has to go before the University’s governance process for a vote before English 110 is completely eliminated but for now, Dr. Gary Rose, chair of Freshman Academic Experience committee and chair of the Department of Government and Politics, said the pilot program will run throughout the academic year, with five freshman seminar pilot classes offered this fall and five in the spring. “We have a proposal in the works for fall 2012 when every freshman will be required to take one of these seminars,” Rose said. If the pilot program is approved, Rose said he expects that approximately 52 sections will be offered to all freshmen.

Various faculty members took part in two workshops over the summer in hopes to form common techniques to bring to each class. Those workshops were led by Dr. Anita August, assistant professor of English and director of Writing Programs, who said “my objective was to give the new cohort a foundation for the freshman seminar.”  The goal of the seminar classes, August said “is to have tenured and tenure-track faculty to each design a course of particular interest to them that are integrative in nature and where critical inquiry skills that lead to writing are the foundational elements.”

Rose said, “These classes are designed to be really writing-intensive.” According to Rose, the “content-based” classes will be quite unique and focus on a wide variety of subjects ranging from political science, sociology or biology. According to August, the University is offering several exciting theme-based courses this year such 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.”

“The overarching goal is to make students aware that writing and critical inquiry are indispensable in all disciplines—not just English literature,” August said.  She will be teaching a pilot seminar in the spring called “Prophets of Rage in American Rhetoric: From Thomas Jefferson to Jay-Z.”   “This course will examine the word “rage” and its soft and hard use in American social and political rhetoric,” she said. 

Even though it will mean the removal of the core class English 110, these new offerings will still keep the University’s core curriculum goals intact, Rose said.  Each seminar class, just like English 110, will strive to create a learning environment where the students will develop the skills needed for this ever-changing society. The classes will also help its students to develop knowledge needed for the major and for life-long learning.

“The goal of this is that the students will be turned on to a discipline and substantive field as soon as they come on to campus,” Rose said. “In these classes they will learn true, effective, writing,” he added. “We really want students to realize how very important writing is in higher education,” Rose said.

Rose will be teaching a new freshman seminar entitled, “The 2012 Presidential Election,” which will be offered in the spring. This course will follow the presidential contest and introduce students to the mechanics of the presidential selection process, allowing students the opportunity to offer thoughtful written commentary and lively discussions regarding contentious issues currently facing the presidential selection system.

“This will undoubtedly be time-consuming to get it started, but in the end our collective efforts will prove that the freshmen seminar courses, which are themed topics grounded in critical inquiry and writing, are best for our student population,” August said. 

Even though it will be a challenge to get this new curriculum off the ground, August is filled with excitement, “I can’t sleep at night because I’m nervous with excitement.  It’s going to work—we have a lot of faculty designing courses on topics that they are interested in and want to share with students.  Excited faculty who are knocking down the door to teach in a program—doesn’t get any sweeter than that!”