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Sep 28 2016
by Graschelle Farinas Hipolito

What is a Freshman Seminar?

By Graschelle Farinas Hipolito - Sep 28 2016
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For many new college students, intimidation may come as no stranger on such a big campus. It’s easy to feel as though your voice is lost while sitting in a class of over three hundred other students or in lectures that make you wish you were still in bed.

Thankfully, UC Davis’ First-Year Seminars allow students to explore various topics that suit their particular interests and interact with their professors and peers in an environment that encourages comfort and inquiry.

A common struggle for many college freshmen is being too intimidated to approach professors for help, but breaking down these barriers is a goal for Davis’ First-Year Seminars. With two hundred seminars offered each year and a maximum cap of 19 students per class, students are likely to find one that piques their distinct curiosity, creativity and imagination and promotes participation in a place where their voices will be heard.

Instructors also choose their own topic for their seminar, which is often a blend between their field of teaching and personal enjoyment, to create an exciting experience for students.

Sharon Knox, UC Davis’ Director of Communications for Undergraduate Education, offered insight through an email interview.

“So many of them are unique because they bring together two lines of study: ‘Experimental Magic’ brings together neurology with slight-of-hand; ‘Why Do People Relinquish their Dogs’ brings a statistical approach to dog abandonment; ‘Psychology of Drumming’ asks what makes certain people choose drums over melodic instruments,” Knox said in the interview.

Knox said that one of her particular interest is the Mondavi Connections, where students can attend performances at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts as part of the curriculum.

“In the winter, First-Year Seminars will be among the very first programs to offer courses in the new Manetti Shrem Museum,” Knox said. “So that indicates something else that’s great about these courses – many of them are totally innovative, opening doors that can’t be found elsewhere.”

A list of the seminar topics offered each quarter is available online for students to browse through. These classes are not limited to freshmen or first-year transfer students only, so all students can enroll in a seminar that fits their schedule. Seminars do not count toward GE credit or major requirements, but they do help to fulfill quarterly unit minimums; students can take as many seminars as they please throughout the year; however, credit is only given for one seminar per quarter. Students also have the option of choosing between one- or two-unit seminars, with both categories offering either letter-grades or Pass/No Pass courses, depending on their level of commitment.

First-Year Seminars aim to help students build connections with their peers and instructors, which I believe is a key component in helping students reach success in college. Personally, I was also intrigued by the variety of seminars and how each topic, however familiar I was to it, captured a sense of fascination. I think that’s the beauty of it all – regardless if you’re majoring in the subject that the seminar is tailored to, it’s meant to open the minds of any and all students.

From food, music and sports to even zombies, there seems to be an interesting seminar for any topic. Davis' newest First-Year Seminars include topics from everything from Freedom of Speech to hummingbirds to zombies and more.  Descriptions of these new seminars are also available online

I decided upon “Space, Time and the Cosmos,” a seminar taught for the first time by an internationally recognized astrophysicist, Andreas Albrecht. Although the only background knowledge I have of cosmology is through episodes of “Through the Wormhole” with Morgan Freeman, I’m still excited to be able to learn, discuss, and collaborate with the class.

Albrecht outlined, “I will make a point of creating a welcoming environment where participation is fun for everyone, regardless of background.”

I encourage you all to look into these seminars that serve as one of the many reasons why UC Davis is such a unique school that intends to engage students through multiple outlets, both academically and socially. 

Lead Image Credit: Converse College Student Life via Flickr Creative Commons

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Graschelle Farinas Hipolito - UC Davis

Graschelle Farinas Hipolito is a first-year Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior major at UC Davis.

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