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New First Year Seminars Build Intellectual Community

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Photo Credits, Clockwise from top left: Pexels—Andrea Piacquadio; Pixabay—Akshaya Patra, Uncredited, Alberto Sanchez, Monoar Rahman, Janeb13, Uncredited, Marcela Bolívar.

How do humans experience time? What are the legacies of slavery? What is childhood and who gets to be a child?

This fall, new students are exploring these questions and more while they sharpen their writing, reading and discussion skills in Whitman College's new First Year Seminars program.

Exploration and Discovery

The programwhich replaces the Encounters curriculum for first-year studentshas been built by faculty over the past two years, with the goal of preparing students to make the most of a liberal arts education. Taught by professors from all across the college, the seminars share common skills-based learning outcomes, yet give faculty the opportunity to draw upon their particular passions and expertise.

The new program is made up of two courses, Exploring Complex Questions each fall, and Making Powerful Arguments in the spring. In the fall, students joined one of six Learning Communities (see above) intended to highlight the creative potential of interdisciplinary study. Each community includes professors from at least three different departments who design the coursework collaboratively.

"I think students will have pretty diverse experiences across the communities," said Associate Professor Mary Raschko, director of the First Year Seminars program.

"What's important is that all students get to dig into complex issues and consider new perspectives, while improving foundational skills. The experience of doing so can be as varied as the professors' and the students' interests."

Diving Deeper

In the spring, students will enter a new course, with new classmates and a new instructor. Where the fall seminars broadly foster intellectual curiosity, Making Powerful Arguments will ask students to focus on a narrower area of study, while they learn to make compelling claims supported by credible evidence. Although students can choose the seminars that interest them most, Raschko hopes many will take ones outside their intended majors, with science majors taking a seminar on multilingualism and art majors taking a seminar on climate change, for example.

A Campus Theme

Cultural inclusiveness is central to all First Year Seminars, and many connect to Whitman's campuswide academic theme for 2020-2021, "Race, Violence, and Health." In their variety, Raschko said, the seminars will help expand the awareness and knowledge students bring to vital discussions on campus about race, power and building inclusive communities. Learn more about Whitman's first-ever academic theme.

Published on Nov 20, 2020
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