Objectives of the First-Year Initiatives Seminar
The First-Year Initiatives (FYI) seminar at Beloit College offers an introduction to the liberal arts that prepares students:
1. To analyze, in discussion and in writing, how their own assumptions about a given object of analysis (be it a text, an object, a film, an epidemic, a legal system, a data set) shape their interpretation of it.
The ability to analyze complex phenomena requires the development both of interpretive skills, and of a critical awareness of oneself and one’s own perspectives as interpreter. This dialogical thought process is foundational not only for reading challenging literary and academic texts, but also for the interpretation of natural and built environments, living organisms, social behavior, quantitative data, visual and material culture, and artistic performance—for all kinds of literacy. FYI seminar leaders help students to develop the capacities required of a skilled reader, including self-reflective and critical thinking skills, introducing strategies for effective reading generally, as well as the techniques most pertinent to the specific types of literacy cultivated in their respective courses.
2. To identify and evaluate various sources of information in terms of the perspectives, agendas, and standards that they assume or invoke.
Becoming an active participant in ongoing academic conversations is a crucial element of a liberal arts education; engaging in research, evaluating information, and making critical and ethical use of others’ research in students’ own work therefore begins in the first semester at Beloit College. All students receive instruction and feedback on locating, evaluating, interpreting, and citing sources correctly and effectively in their own work.
3. To reflect upon, analyze and evaluate their own position in relation to others in the communities of which they are (and of which they aspire to be) a part.
Beginning in New Student Days and continuing through the semester, FYI acquaints students with the presence, interests, and needs of various communities within and beyond Beloit College—local, national, and international. Seminars foster intercultural learning and students’ awareness of their own positions and responsibilities in relation to multiple communities. Seminars provide students opportunities to engage with and learn from these communities, to participate self-reflectively in community-based learning, and to integrate such engaged learning experiences with their in-class experiences.
4. To practice a range of strategies that develop and demonstrate effective critical thinking and communication skills in writing and speaking.
FYI leaders help students to become more aware of expectations for effective communication at the college level, and provide strategies for developing as writers and speakers. Students engage in a regular writing practice during the semester through a sequence of assignments that vary in focus, length, and writing style, but all of which receive instructive feedback and opportunities for improvement. The small class size and seminar format of FYI is especially conducive to developing speaking and listening skills for productive conversation and effective presentation. FYI leaders introduce strategies for effective speaking in formal and informal contexts, and help students to hone their skills.
5. To compose written arguments with a focused claim and a pattern of development that is appropriate to and effective for the intended audience and purpose.
Constructing effective written arguments demands both critical thought and compelling evidence, and an approach to writing that is driven by a clear sense of audience and purpose—knowing why and to whom they are making and supporting a claim helps students to develop an appropriate and persuasive structure, style, and voice in their writing. FYI seminar leaders teach argumentation as a motivated practice that is not only at the heart of intellectual inquiry, but also central to many human endeavors and career trajectories.
6. To apply what they learn through their liberal arts education to significant questions and problems.
A Beloit education emphasizes the practice of the liberal arts, where “practice” entails developing customary or habitual behavior, engaging in repetition in order to improve, and applying an idea or carrying out a plan. These three forms of practice are mutually enhancing, and all play a role in the FYI seminar. Students develop habits of mind conducive to ethical, creative, and critical engagement with the world, repeatedly practice complex skills so as to become proficient, and then explore the value of these carefully honed and critiqued ideas, perspectives, and skills for our understanding of particular problems and life challenges. FYI seminar topics are extremely diverse, but they all involve the refinement and application of the liberal arts in contexts where their relevance can be examined and tested.
7. To begin to articulate for themselves and others the value of their liberal arts education at Beloit College.
From the first semester, a liberal arts education at Beloit College seeks to inspire a passionate commitment to lifelong learning and effective action in the world. FYI seminars cultivate students’ sense of investment in their liberal arts education, their awareness of their own learning processes, and their ability to articulate why their Beloit education matters. Students develop their appreciation of Beloit’s distinctive approach to the liberal arts, which emphasizes the active and reflective practice of the liberal arts for the betterment of oneself and others, and they assume ownership of their own learning, as facilitated through the mentorship of their seminar leader, good academic planning, and the social and co-curricular aspects of Beloit’s residential learning experience. The Initiatives program offers students structured opportunities to formulate their own learning goals and aspirations for the future in a context that emphasizes the profound value of a liberal arts perspective both for understanding and learning from the organization of knowledge in other places and times and for addressing the most urgent questions of our own place and time.