SGA, faculty talk FYS and teaching style in open panel

Michael Clement, Staff Writer

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Student Government Association (SGA) representatives and peer catalysts facilitated an open discussion between students and faculty members about how professors can be more effective educators, particularly in first-year seminar (FYS).

SGA Vice President Sophia Marshall discusses her concerns with the FYS class.

FYS, a required course for first-semester underclassmen or transfers,faced scrutiny from the student body since its conception, due to its lack of standardization. SGA Vice President Sophia Marshall, a peer catalyst in an FYS class herself, spoke for her constituents and classmates when she told FYS administrators Thorton Lockwood and Ann Harrigan that the course was not working to its fullest potential for many students.

“One thing that I’ve heard from my particular students is that a lot of them are dissatisfied with the contrast (of the curriculum from class to class),” Marshall said. “For example, you have some professors who give five-page papers, some who give two-page papers, and I feel some students aren’t super happy that there isn’t some sort of regulation across the board.”

Lockwood said that there are specific writing requirements for the course.

Hillary Haldane, an anthropology professor and the director of general education, expanded on the lack of standardization in the course from a teaching standpoint. Because the university assigns several professors from each school to teach FYS, is unlikely that two sections of FYS are the same. Haldane urged for a different model that would cater to all students, including those who seek extra help because of learning disabilities. 

“We don’t want you to just be successful, but also for you to feel that you’re really benefiting from the rest of the academics in that first year and not overwhelmed by it,” Haldane said. ”I think you actually should have your faculty stay in their lane, that’s our expertise. We should work with our colleagues and other members of our community so that we’re making sure you’re not just doing well in your first year, but to teach what it’s like coming back to your sophomore year.”

Panelists discussed the effectiveness of some professors’ teaching styles and expectations in their disciplines. Lockwood spoke about writing ability, which is necessary in his history courses. He described how health science students, for example, can be proficient in their majors, but still fall behind the mark in written communication. He said he aims to teach them the necessary skills to make them well-rounded students.

Professor Haldane built off of that point and emphasized the importance of utilizing professors’ office hours through a personal anecdote from her college experience. She advised students to “go to every professor’s office hours at least once” to at least build a rapport with them.

Lockwood said he plans to work with SGA to address the student body’s concerns about FYS and how the university can better facilitate learning for all. Director of the Research and Writing Institute Paul Pasquaretta said he is also eager to get student input.

“I very much want to get additional feedback from students about how they think we can better the course’s experience,” Pasquaretta, who helped to mediate the panel, concluded.

Alvares emphasised that no matter how much the university changes FYS, students are still responsible for their own choices. She cited her own experience, coming from a high school in Portugal that taught its students to be independent learners.  

“There’s only so much we can coddle someone but at the same time let them be independent,” Alvares said. “And that’s what college is all about –we’re away from home becoming who we want to become, and if someone doesn’t go to office hours or engage a lot that’s their personal experience. There are offers and there are opportunities, it’s not like professors are purposely making things difficult.”