For the 2022-23 academic year, Alma College decided to change the First Year Seminar curriculum in hopes of a more engaging course that develops critical thinking and communication skills inside and outside of the classroom.
FYS is an introduction-to-college class that focuses on setting first-year students up for success at Alma College and allows them to explore topics beyond their major. But after last semester’s section, many students are left questioning whether this was truly accomplished or not.
“It didn’t feel like [our discussions] had a direction sometimes and that was a little frustrating. [I wish] there was more of a point to the end of the semester, …like one big takeaway,” said first-year student Ella Cusack (‘26).
Students like Cusack note how there were many topics crammed into one class, making it seem unorganized at times and lacking a final purpose that most other classes have.
Natashia Swalve, Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology and Sociology, Interim Associate Provost and FYS Director, is part of the committee tasked with structuring FYS. This year “it was set up to be one single class with the theme of ‘college in the good life,” said Swalve.
According to Swalve, “this year there were a lot of transitions…the previous person in charge ended up leaving and we had to last minute take over everything which meant that the vision wasn’t really fully able to be seen through the semester and that probably didn’t lead to as much success as we would have hoped,” said Swalve.
As a first-year student myself, I experienced the flaws firsthand. The course primarily focused on reading and response type assignments with several reflection pieces throughout the semester. Much of the content felt thrown together which made it difficult to find a common theme for the course.
Additionally, the initial rubric for writing assignments made it near impossible to get a perfect score, or anywhere close for the matter. Instead of developing writing skills it pressured students to write under rigorous guidelines with little room for leeway.
Despite its flaws, some students still believe that FYS was a beneficial course overall.
“I liked when we would have people come in through different departments and explain things to us … [like] how to rent a computer or check out books at the library and stuff like that,” said Noah Murphy (‘26).
Like many other students, Murphy felt it was helpful when the course focused on the integration of first-year students into Alma and college life in general. FYS made him more “comfortable” in navigating the transition from high school to college.
Another thing students liked about FYS was how it connected them to others in their year that they would not have gotten to know otherwise.
“I liked getting to meet different people in my grade,” said Cusack. “In my class we did a lot of ‘Socratic discussion’ where we put our chairs in a circle, so we got familiar with each other really fast.”
Swalve is hoping to get feedback from this year’s FYS students in order to improve the course for future students. She held two FYS focus groups on Jan. 17 and 18 for students to share “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
“What we’re doing is trying to …hear from you all in terms of …what things you hated, what things you actually enjoyed, what you want more of and what things you want less of,” said Swalve.
The college already has some ideas on how to alter the curriculum, like “involving a community engaged learning aspect” and “more skill building activities so it’s not as much learning how to write based on a reading but learning how to take a test or give a presentation,” said Swalve.
If you missed the focus groups and would like to share your opinions on FYS, Swalve emailed out a survey for feedback.