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First Year Seminars Program

The First Year Seminars (FYS) program is designed to bring Michigan faculty together with incoming first year students in a small-class setting. LSA established the program in 1978 and greatly expanded it in 1994 as part of a broad effort to improve undergraduate education. First Year Seminar courses are limited to a maximum enrollment of 18 first-year students. Each course meets an area distribution requirement. FYS are not survey courses, but they do cover material that is appropriate for distribution requirements.

The aims of the program are to provide opportunities for first-year students to:

  • Interact with the tenured and tenure-track faculty who are chiefly responsible for the University's ongoing intellectual life;
  • Join the community of scholars and participate in studying topics and issues that are engaging and important;
  • Discover the value of specialized academic knowledge and expertise in efforts to analyze and understand problems of consequence; and
  • Experience frequent opportunities to write and receive written commentary on their writing, and to present oral reports.

Faculty have the opportunity to explore a topic they are passionate about and students get a first-hand, up-front look at the process of critical inquiry. FYS also serve the function of helping ease the transition to college that new students face. The majority of FYS are taught by regular UM faculty. Student interest and satisfaction in these courses is high. The program is also valuable in recruiting prospective students to the university. Each year a glossy brochure of FYS offerings is sent to incoming students.

LSA faculty member (and former Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education) Philip J. Deloria offers the following advice to First Year Seminar faculty:

First Year Seminars have particular aims that often require faculty members to adjust their pedagogy. Perhaps the most important of these is the obligation to introduce students to the new demands, expectations and opportunities of a large research university. Students in a FYS are only a few months removed from high school, and the FYS classroom can be an important location for educating them about the very nature of a university. Faculty members often include assignments that help students locate themselves physically and professionally on campus (libraries, labs, support services, computing resources, media centers, museums etc.). Likewise, good seminars also attempt to help students find their intellectual footing, schooling them in techniques and familiar forms of reading (entire books, professional journal articles) and writing (lab reports, review articles, research papers). Faculty members are often explicit and intentional in helping students understand their role as members of a seminar or a discussion section. Since the courses are located in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, it is equally important that First Year Seminars emphasize the value of broad, cross-field exploration of knowledge characteristic of the liberal arts.

In addition to these goals, a good First Year Seminar should also introduce students to themes, questions, and ways of thinking within the division and the discipline. It might introduce students to faculty research as well, or to critical current questions in the field. Faculty should not assume, however, that students intend to major in the discipline. First Year Seminars are more exploratory than introductory. Poorly designed seminars have tended to dig too deeply, too quickly into the discipline, to treat the course as an introduction to the field, or to focus narrowly on faculty interests at an advanced level. Placing content delivery over skills development has not proven successful in these courses! Nor has converting existing upper-level or graduate seminars, or standard lecture classes. First Year Seminars are a form all their own.

First Year Seminar teaching, when well-conceived, can be among the most satisfying pedagogical experiences on campus. Faculty consistently report leading their students through substantial gains in analytical, interpretive, and social skills development.   Incoming students tend to be eager and committed, and once they understand the new context of the university, they often thrive in FYS courses.

For further information on the program, contact Evans Young (evansy@umich.edu).