Frosh Panels To Discuss Extra-Curricular Life

Starting this week, as many as 125 freshmen will be meeting in small groups with faculty and administrators as part of a new initiative undertaken by the Freshman Dean’s Office to increase informal interactions between students and adults outside of an academic context.

The initiative is the result of years of exit interviews, according to education professor Richard J. Light, that have revealed that while many students report having had a fulfilling experience at Harvard, they also tend to feel that they missed the opportunity to discuss aspects of student life in an informal setting.

In the surveys, several seniors suggested the idea of dividing students into groups of 10 to discuss the various opportunities available at Harvard and to answer questions that they themselves had come across. Leading questions suggested by the seniors included, “What constitutes a good life?” and “What trade-offs does one make to achieve goals?”

In addition to Light, the program is being led by Dean of Freshman Thomas A. Dingman ’67, Graduate School of Education Professor Howard E. Gardner, and Director of Freshman Programming Katherine W. Steele.

After gleaning the idea for the program from the exit surveys, Light said that he and Dingman agreed to run a pilot program in the spring with small groups of freshmen. E-mails were sent to freshmen in December inviting them to participate in the new, voluntary program.

Light said that he was astounded by the enthusiastic responses from both freshmen and faculty.

Dingman said that the purpose of the program was to encourage students to be more aware of their goals and of the opportunities at Harvard. He said that if students were asked to articulate their personal dreams and desires, they would be more cognizant of how to integrate their life goals into the opportunities offered at Harvard.

While the program allows facilitators to lead their discussions as they see fit, Dingman’s office contacted three upperclassmen to pinpoint the most relevant areas of discussion, such as how people define happiness and what people value in life.

Kyle J. Dancewicz ’11 attended a discussion on Tuesday hosted by Paul J. Barreira, director of behavioral health and academic counseling at University Health Services.

“I registered because I wanted to understand what was really important for me,” he said. “It was cool to get out of the zone I’m in and look at a cross section of what the freshman class thinks of their experience so far.”