Freshman Seminars Grow

The Freshman Seminar Program is no baby—it has been around since 1959—but in the last three years, it’s done a lot of growing up.

Ever since former Dean of Undergraduate Education Susan G. Pedersen ’81-’82 took up the cause of revitalizing the program, it has been the focus of efforts to increase and diversify offerings and to simplify its notoriously laborious application and selection process.

This year, the Freshman Seminar Program came into its own as a record number of first-years applied for a record number of courses—although not without a few computer glitches along the way.

An increase in the number of both humanities and science seminars, growing departmental support, and a new web-based application system all contributed to a total growth of 250 percent in course offerings over the past three years, according to Elizabeth Doherty, director of the Freshman Seminar Program.

“The aim of expanding the Freshman Seminar Program was enthusiastically endorsed” by members of the Faculty, Doherty says. “Many more faculty have subsequently come forward to teach freshman seminars.”

More, More, More

During her tenure as Dean of Undergraduate Education, Pedersen made expanding the program one of her office’s priorities.

In the fall of 2001 she released a report on the status of freshman seminars, in which she stressed the value of a small group setting and interaction with a faculty member for first-years who do not yet have the benefit of concentration tutorials. The seminars, typically composed of 10 to 15 students, are graded “Credit” or “No Credit” and have no formal examinations.

Assistant Director of Social Studies Karen Zivi, who led a seminar last fall, says that its structure helps first-years adjust to the rigors of participating in a college classroom.

“The small size, the length of the meeting time, the fact that it’s pass-fail, and the fact that it is only open to freshman—the combination of which makes the course unique—lends itself to the creation of an intimate and intellectually exciting learning environment,” Zivi says.

Pedersen and former Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles worked to convince departments to support the program and encouraged faculty members to teach seminars.

These efforts were taken up by their successors, Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71 and Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, last spring and this fall.

The result is a dramatic increase in the number of courses offered—88 total, up from 61 offered last year and 36 the year before that.

More offerings likely spurred more applications—a record of 1,054 applications were submitted for just the fall seminars, according to Doherty.

The historic high far exceeds previous records, 851 applications in the fall of 2001 and 852 applicants in the fall of 1967.