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FYI: The First-Year Initiatives Seminar

The heart of the Initiatives program resides in the FYI seminars offered to first-year students (average class size: 15). Described by one participant as “combination safety net and trampoline,” the seminars are not just orientation sessions, but full-fledged courses that focus on a broad range of fascinating topics through the study of which students develop core skills and encounter multiple perspectives, as articulated in the FYI learning objectives. Entering first-years learn to be both students of the liberal arts and students at Beloit: they discover not only how to evaluate complex arguments and write lucid essays, but also about the many resources on campus that help them put what they learn into practice—from the Colonel Robert H. Morse Library and its rich college archives, to Beloit’s stellar teaching museums; from the gifted tutors at the Writing Center  to the many opportunities for international and community-based learning.

A few months before their first semester, incoming students receive a brochure describing the seminar topics and choose those that intrigue them most. The seminar begins with a one-week orientation session (New Student Days) and continues through the rest of the first semester. During New Student Days, students get to know their Initiatives advisor and other seminar participants, engage with a common reading, and attend a series of programs with topics that range from adjusting to the culture of their new environment to reflecting on community engagement (an important component of the FYI experience).

Collaborative learning is a crucial component of FYI seminars, and of Beloit's approach to the liberal arts. The FYI seminars emphasize the notion that understanding and insight are reached through conversation with others, both within a given seminar and among different seminars. For example, two seminars, one investigating the role of technology in society and the other exploring connections between artists and scientists, met to discuss the significance of bridges—bridges both as technical adaptations and as cultural metaphors. One seminar even went on to produce an art exhibit of bridges that students had constructed throughout the semester.

The development of intercultural literacy, an essential skill in our diverse local and global communities, also begins in FYI. Discussions and activities during New Student Days and throughout the semester culminate in the FYI Digital Storytelling Contest, for which students in their first semester at Beloit create digital stories that illuminate how social identity shapes our understanding of the world. Winning stories are showcased at the Digital Storytelling Festival in December.

The FYI Seminar is one of four courses taken during the first semester at Beloit College and earns 1 unit of credit.

Curious about seminar topics? Check out the descriptions of the Fall 2011 seminars.