Advising Under Review

By Emily Singer

The Educational Affairs Committee (EAC) has been presented with a series of recommendations compiled by an ad hoc committee to reform the First Year Seminar (FYS) program. The committee’s report is the first in-depth report on the FYS program since the 1997-1998 academic year.

It is unlikely that a vote will occur during the current academic year, however. In order for a vote to occur, the ad hoc committee, led by Associate Professor of History Amy Morsman, had to compile a report and present it to the EAC for review before it could be discussed during a faculty meeting. The report was presented to the EAC just two weeks ago and only one faculty meeting remains.

As it exists now, there are 42 first-year seminar courses offered in the fall and eight in the spring. A system of rotations based on the number of faculty within each department was developed to select the 50 professors leading seminars each year.

“We ask more from the English department and the History department, than we do from Classics, because there are more faculty in there to rotate around,” said Associate Professor of English and Assistant Dean for Instruction Kathy Skubikowski, who has overseen FYS advising since 1995.

On average, faculty return to the role of FYS advisor once every three and a half years. However, some rotate through more frequently simply because they enjoy advising students during their formative first months at the College.

Morsman did not reveal information held within the ad hoc committee’s recommendations, writing in an email that “they [the EAC] will take the time they need over the next several weeks to go through it … before making any firm decisions about next steps.”

She did note, however, that she and other committee members sought feedback from students about their FYS experiences.

“But at least from my perspective, the initial impetus to rethink the FYS program came from faculty who have taught in the program and wanted to make some changes and from administrators who were happy to have faculty consider possible tweaks to the system,” she wrote in an email.

Skubikowski and Dean of Curriculum and Director of the Sciences Bob Cluss hinted at potential changes based on the recent evolution of FYS advising, however.

When the FYS program was last reviewed in Spring 1998, it led to the integration between FYS courses and the Commons system. The Commons system was developed during the presidency of John M. McCardell and expanded as new dormitories were constructed to allow for commons-specific housing. Cluss noted that the timing of the review and the expansion of the commons system allowed for the coupling of first-year housing assignments with FYS courses.

“One of the changes we’re thinking of is having a larger Commons role in the advising of first-year seminars,” Skubikowski said, noting Commons-organized dinners linked with particular academic departments to guide first-semester sophomores in declaring a major.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Spears elaborated on the evolving role of advisors.

“What we’re trying to do on the administrative side is to take advantage of the resources we have to establish a framework for advising that extends from first year through to sophomore year,” he said. “We understand that from a student perspective academic advising can, and sometimes should, lead to more general discussions about what students might want to do with what they’re majoring in.”

Cluss made note of the potential for a group of super-advisors who would serve as expert advisors with regard to major advising and AP or IB credit distribution.

Adapting the FYS program to remain current with regard to student needs and College policy is also a concern.

“One thing that’s changed in 26 years is the students who are coming in. There’s just a whole different preparation,” Skubikowski said. “The idea of the first year seminar is that it helps … students make the transition between being excellent high school students to being excellent college students … but we need to identify in some ways what those transitions are.”

Spears echoed Skubikowski with regard to the changing needs of students.

“Is it appropriate that the FYS program should only focus on writing skills? Some have suggested we consider other skills, like public speaking or information literacy.”