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First-Year Initiatives (FYI) Seminars - Fall 2017

The What, Why, and When of FYI:
The Initiatives Program and the FYI Seminar

How does Beloit College bring students together, bring each of them into our community, and match them with academic programs that both stimulate student engagement and initiate students into the practice of the liberal arts at Beloit College? And how does Beloit do it while maintaining a campus atmosphere in which students have the maximum freedom to make their own choices about their education and future?

The answer is the Initiatives Program. Designed to inspire and support students through their first four semesters of college, the different elements of the program work together to foster incoming students’ skills, interests, knowledge, and agency. Students develop habits of mind conducive to ethical and creative engagement with the world and learn how to apply different ideas, skills, and perspectives to particular problems and life challenges.

The program begins with New Student Days, a week-long orientation that introduces students both to the Beloit College campus and our distinctive liberal arts community, as well as to the professor who will be their Initiatives advisor—their advisor in the liberal arts—for the next two years. That professor also leads their First-Year Initiatives (FYI) seminar, one of four courses taken during the first semester at Beloit College. FYI seminars focus on a wide range of fascinating topics, but all of them help students to navigate the transition to college, while offering them an engaging and challenging introduction to academic inquiry.

While the seminar comes to an end at the conclusion of the first semester, the advising relationship continues over the three subsequent semesters, both through individual meetings and through an advising workshop held once each semester. In these once-a-semester, all-day workshops, students reflect on their experiences and plan their educational trajectory, while learning how to take full advantage of the many opportunities that a Beloit education offers.

Finally, at the end of the sophomore year, students are eligible to apply for Venture Grants, which provide students funds to embark on self-designed projects. Grant recipients put into practice the skills and perspectives they have gained over their first two years at Beloit College in projects that expand their academic and personal resources for the exciting opportunities that await them in their junior and senior years.

It all begins with choosing an FYI seminar. Review the descriptions below, find your top five, and complete this form to register for your FYI.

The Beloit Education Defined:
Five Principles of the First-Year Initiatives (FYI) Seminar

Great Teaching

Great teaching is not something a college should reserve for juniors and seniors. From their first moments on campus, students study with outstanding Beloit College professors. FYI seminars have approximately 16 students, and seminar leaders also act as students’ advisors in the liberal arts for the next two years.

Diverse Ways of Learning

Learning should not be confined to a single field or discipline. Faculty and staff in fields of expertise ranging from anthropology to theatre to biology lead the seminars—and each seminar incorporates multiple approaches and perspectives. While each FYI seminar is different—so as to give students a great deal of choice—sections also share common readings, common time slots, and common cultural and social events. Before graduation from Beloit, students master at least one field, their major, in some depth. But in introducing students to learning at the college through the FYI seminar, we want to emphasize that knowledge has no boundaries. In the four years students spend here, we want to stimulate their initiative to become broadly educated in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

Personalized Learning

Learning is both something shared and something very personal and individualized. FYI seminars include a week of orientation in which fellow seminar members (and future friends and graduates) get to know one another. During the orientation and fall semester seminar, students undertake significant speaking and writing projects, both individually and within the close-knit group that the FYI seminar becomes. FYI seminars are designed to foster the creativity, flexibility, and teamwork best learned in small groups—as well as equipping students for excellence in speaking and writing. In the words of one professor, Beloit’s FYI program “begins preparing students to do well at Beloit, and do well after Beloit, on the first day they arrive.”

Applied Learning

Learning reaches beyond the classroom. During New Student Days and throughout the semester, students explore Beloit the city as well as Beloit the college. Noted anthropologist Margaret Mead once described Beloit as a “microcosm of America.” With its heavy industry, urban challenges, and surrounding agricultural lands, with its ethnic diversity and long and fascinating history, Beloit is a stimulating window on the world. Previous FYI seminars have included working with the Landmarks Commission, tutoring children at a local community center, working on a community farm, and various student-designed hands-on projects.

Motivated Learning

Learning is a choice. FYI seminars foster the conditions under which students can take ownership of their Beloit experience and passionately pursue their own aspirations. The seminars encourage students to develop the ability to assess their own strengths and challenges as learners through frequent reflection on the learning process and intentional, step-by-step skill-building. Most importantly, FYI seminars encourage students to recognize the value and relevance of their liberal arts education and to forge their own connections between the classroom and the local and global communities of which they are part.

List of First-Year Initiatives (FYI) Seminars

  1. My Quixotic Self: The Impact of Stories on Personal Identity Formation
  2. Balance
  3. Your Beloit Life: Narratives of Identity and Belonging
  4. Constructing Health
  5. Winter Is Coming: How Vladimir Putin Has Shifted Russia from Democracy to Autocracy
  6. "Fake News"
  7. China and America: Mutual (Mis)Understandings
  8. Global Entrepreneurship
  9. Criticism as Art
  10. Making the Familiar Strange and the Strange Familiar
  11. Letters from Prison
  12. Imaginary Cities
  13. How to do Things with Words
  14. An Introduction to Mathematical Thinking as an Introduction to the Liberal Arts
  15. Games about Writing / Writing about Games
  16. Race Across Time: Race, Gender, and Culture in Futuristic Literature and Cinema
  17. Color
  18. In Search of the Poet
  19. Habits of Mind, Habits of Body
  20. The Costs and Benefits of Being the Best
  21. Immigration, “the Major Civil Rights Issue of Our Time”

“Constructing the Self”:
Linked Courses for Living and Learning

Students at Beloit College put the liberal arts into practice by integrating their lived experience into their academic work. The “living education” afforded by the residential nature of the Beloit College campus is central to helping students make connections between the classroom, the Beloit community, and the world of ideas.

The following first-year seminars are linked courses. They explore individual course themes in relation to one another through common readings, co-curricular events, and community building activities. Students and FYI faculty will work together to fully connect the academic and residential components of the first-year experience in particularly rich and meaningful ways.

1. My Quixotic Self: The Impact of Stories on Personal Identity Formation

This first-year seminar focuses on how literature influences who we are, who we aspire to be, and how we understand ourselves and others. First published in 1605, Don Quixote is considered by many to be the first modern-era novel. Its protagonist, don Quixote, is enamored with medieval tales of chivalry and seeks to become like the knights he so admires in those stories. His quest to become the hero of his own story results in episodes of hilarity, absurdity, and causes no small amount of suffering. By analyzing key parts of the first half of Don Quixote, as well as using other audio-based story telling programs such as This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, and Radio Ambulante this course interrogates how stories shape our own identities. Don Quixote creates a personal ethos based on his interpretation of literature. How does literature impact who you are and how you experience the world? What is your favorite book and why? Why do stories matter? How do stories affect your daily life? These are some of the questions we will address together.

2. Balance

The search for balance exists in multiple facets of daily life: a balanced diet, work-life balance, balancing one’s budget. But how can we find and maintain balance? By examining health and well-being across the life-span and particularly for young adults, we will consider holistic approaches to understanding mind-body-soul connections.  We will explore such topics as prenatal care, birth, gender influences, nutrition, environmental influences, emotional health, sleep, work, achievement, self-care, care for others, aging, and dying.  Exploring an array of topics (including those chosen by class participants) will help us contrast influences on health and well-being on our own campus with other indices that we define and discover elsewhere.  At the core of our discussions will be a focus on social and cultural contexts of health. We will consider work from multiple disciplines and search for applications and community influences in order to develop a better understanding of the determinants and parameters of health and wellness. With an interdisciplinary lens and applied focus, we will seek to define what balance might mean, and find conscious approaches to achieving balance. 

3. Your Beloit Life: Narratives of Identity and Belonging

What stories do you tell about yourself? How can stories become vehicles to analyze our experiences, in order to fortify us, and help us to persevere through failure or adversity? How or can stories facilitate notions of belonging? What provides you with a sense of belonging? This course will examine difference as an analytical category by looking at structural inequities.  Students will be required to analyze these in the context of their lived experiences and develop their own narratives.  Students are encouraged to think about their own political/social locations (for example, race, class, religion, citizenship, sexuality, gender, or able-bodied-ness) and how these facets of identities are understood in larger social contexts.  We will investigate the politics of identity through a story-telling lens. Are some identities more valued than others?  What does this mean for how these identities are inhabited or performed? And what does that mean for the narratives we weave about ourselves? We will conduct close readings of theoretical texts, popular culture, and memoirs to figure out how to understand the larger social implications for ourselves and others.  

4. Constructing Health

What is "healthy" food? Who gets to eat it? Who decides what "nutritious" means? Are GMOs bad for you? Does playing a sport make you "healthy?" Will going to the gym improve your GPA? Why do health disparities exist? What exactly is "health" anyway? In this course, we will strive to define what health means for us as Beloiters and as global citizens. Beginning with an exploration of food and wellness at Beloit, we will expand to examine the economic, cultural, geographical, physical, social, and environmental factors that create "health." Through field trips, classroom discussions, films, and community engagement we will draw on many different viewpoints to construct an understanding of our health and health in a global context. Our seminar will incorporate creative projects and student-driven activism around the personally-relevant, interdisciplinary topic of “health,” and will serve as a foundation for your liberal arts education at Beloit College.


Additional Seminars

5. Winter Is Coming: How Vladimir Putin Has Shifted Russia from Democracy to Autocracy

In this seminar, we will attempt to answer two crucial questions: Why has the reaction of the Russian people to Putin’s actions been so positive, and what does the rise of Putinism mean for the United States and the rest of the world? We will start with Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We, which is set in an urban glass city called One State, controlled by spies and secret police, and then compare it to the dystopian society described by George Orwell in his novel, 1984. It is eerie how much the current situation in Russia resembles the one described in both novels. We will also look at a very interesting phenomenon of why 1984 is at the top of Amazon’s best-seller list in the United States. We will finish the seminar by reading Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped by Garry Kasparov, who has been a vocal critic of Putin for over a decade.

6. “Fake News”

In the digital age, we are bombarded with information at an alarming rate. Consideration of accuracy is often secondary to breaking a story. If the New York Times reports on a story, is this more relevant or factual than Buzzfeed? How does the source of information change the meaning of that information or even how truthful it is? Exploring ways to decipher between fake news, misinformation, rumors, and propaganda, this seminar will reinforce critical evaluation skills, provide methods on differentiating between types of authority, recognize privilege in information dissemination, and consider how to accurately use information in academic work and everyday life. We will also learn how to evaluate persuasive claims in non-academic spheres, such as the shared information that circulates in personal networks, contexts where opportunities for employment or personal advancement are pursued, and the occasions in which personal assertions of authenticity are paramount. Reading from a variety of sources (academic journals, major newspapers, blogs, and Twitter), we will spend time thinking about the definition of information and the ways it is constantly shaped by our own networks, experiences, and worldviews. Understanding the information landscape will help you increase ownership of your scholarly work, maneuver through your academic experience, and put the liberal arts into practice.

7. China and America: Mutual (Mis)Understandings

Chinese and Americans have long struggled to understand each other. From the Boxer rebellion to the Communist takeover, from Chairman Mao and President Nixon to Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, each side has held both positive and negative stereotypes of the other. American positive stereotypes include Pearl Buck’s “noble peasant,” Chiang Kaishek’s “Free China,” Mao’s egalitarian utopia, and the contemporary myth of China’s inevitable “free market” rise. Negative stereotypes include the “Yellow Peril,” the diabolical Fu Manchu, the “Red Menace,” and Trump’s claim that China is destroying America. Positive Chinese stereotypes of America include idealized visions of its democracy, wealth, and success as a “melting pot.” Negative stereotypes include popular depictions of widespread racial violence and the “spiritual pollution” of arrogant American businessmen and loose American women. This seminar seeks to help students examine their own stereotypes of China and America while furthering their interest in Chinese and American studies. The seminar will include films, videos, visits to the Beloit College museums and archives, and guest presentations from Beloit’s China faculty, plus talks by Chinese students and Americans returned from study abroad, to show how their images changed after greater exposure to each country.

8. Global Entrepreneurship

What is entrepreneurship? Is it starting your own business and being your own boss, or is it about innovation and creating something new? Is it about making a lot of money for oneself, or is it about creating values and contributing to society, or both? And what does it mean to be an entrepreneur in a rapidly globalizing world? These are questions that we will study in this course. We will examine entrepreneurship in the context of globalization and global citizenship. In particular, four topics will be covered: (i) entrepreneurship as a process of economic and social value creation; (ii) the entrepreneur’s journey, or how to start your own business or social venture, (iii) entrepreneurship in a globalizing world, or how to think globally to survive locally as an entrepreneur; and (iv) the entrepreneurial global citizen, or what is global citizenship and how might you use your entrepreneurial energy to fulfill global and civic responsibility. The goal of the course is to spark students’ entrepreneurial potential and equip them with basic entrepreneurial skills, so they can become empowered, innovative, and responsible global citizens.  

9. Criticism as Art

Writing about art and music has famously been dismissed, by many, as superfluous to the experience of the art itself, a parasitic enterprise (“Writing about music,” it has been remarked, “is like dancing about architecture”). And yet criticism is an art form that has continued to thrive and develop over centuries. In this seminar, we will practice writing, reading, analyzing, and emulating various kinds of criticism, covering a range of styles, media, and historical periods. We will focus on the ways that criticism does more than merely evaluate or report on a given artist’s work, performance, or event but, rather, serves to police and resist aesthetic categories, geographical and cultural boundaries, and identity politics. In particular, students will examine how critics use their art as a mode for self expression, social commentary, historical storytelling, and literary experimentation. Through the semester we will question the impact and function of criticism: Why is criticism read and written? How is it used and by whom? What does it do? What is the relationship between artists and critics?

10. Making the Familiar Strange and the Strange Familiar

How do you acquire information and form opinions about social, political, economic, and environmental issues in the communities in which you live? How have your lived experiences informed your knowledge of these issues?  Doesn’t it appear like there is an invisible hand structuring our lives that is both familiar and strange at the same time?  It’s familiar because it seems like it’s always been that way so we don’t examine it, and it’s strange because when we scrutinize it, it seems new and surprising. In this class, you will learn how to “read” a community by understanding how health, education, the criminal justice system, and other structures affect community members in different ways. Through discussion and analysis of key concepts from a variety of disciplines and time spent with local leaders and community organizations,  you will develop the tools you need to engage in and reflect on your role in not only shaping your education and life but in contributing to a better society. 

11. Letters from Prison

We will read writings by people who have been incarcerated in various times and places, both famous and infamous. They include political prisoners, convicted murderers, accused terrorists, and people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their words will help us focus sharply on essential human questions: What is justice? How does society shape us? What are our responsibilities towards those who are incarcerated? How can words serve as fulcrum to change the world? From ancient Rome to modern Supermax facilities, we will explore how prisoners understand their lives and explore what this has to do with us. These writings can provoke the conscience, delve deep into our souls, and shine a probing light on the world. In addition to reading letters, we will investigate how incarceration has been conceived of and used in different contexts. Films, guest lecturers, and field trips will add perspective to our investigations. Students will also have opportunities to write to and on behalf of prisoners.

12. Imaginary Cities

This course explores the city as an idea with fluid and hotly contested meanings. As the writer Italo Calvino reflects, “Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears… [T]heir rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” If cities are so complex, how should we approach them? What does it mean to “read” a city and what does it mean to live in one? How do cities offer us new ways of seeing, of knowing, and of feeling? To address these questions we will discuss many locales, including Victorian London, “megacities” in developing nations, and Beloit itself. We will also consider virtual cities imagined on the web and by visionary urban planners. Cities have always provoked shock and amazement: we will learn how these reactions contributed to new urban art forms such as photography and detective fiction and to distinctive ways of organizing and surveying the multitude, pioneered by modern sociology and anthropology.

13. How to Do Things With Words

Language not only conveys meaning but shapes reality, so philosopher J.L. Austin concluded in the lecture series from which this course takes its title. His insight was and remains controversial, yet it has influenced areas of study well beyond philosophy right up to the present day. In this course, we will trace the consequences of the notion that language, far from constituting a mere instrument of communication or expression, in important ways makes the reality it appears to describe. In the process, we will inquire into the ways in which our knowledge, experiences, identities—even our bodies—might be shaped by language. (For instance, if experts declare a form of behavior “deviant,” they are also determining what counts as “normal.”) Although Austin’s theory of “performative utterance” has been influential, his insight is not unique. Indeed, people in many other cultural, historical, and linguistic contexts would find far more unusual the modern idea that language simply represents (or misrepresents) an external, material reality. But maybe this idea also shapes reality. To inquire into the way language makes the real, then, we will also investigate how this notion of language as separate from reality is part of what makes it possible for us to be “modern.”

14. An Introduction to Mathematical Thinking as an Introduction to the Liberal Arts

What is mathematical thinking? It is not the same as quantitative reasoning. In fact, some would argue that it is completely distinct from quantitative reasoning. Whatever it is, though, it is done by people; it is a rich, interesting, and constantly changing part of our culture. Thus, the people who do mathematics affect what is done, and the mathematics done by people affect the people who do it. Students in this seminar will explore what mathematical thinking is by doing some mathematical thinking about important ideas in mathematics. Discussing and writing about the intrinsic interest and development of the underlying ideas will prepare students to grapple with questions such as: Is mathematics the queen of the sciences? Is it even a science at all? Is it just convenient tool? Or is it a language? What role does (or should) mathematics play in a liberal arts education? How do the modes of thought involved in mathematics compare and contrast with those encountered in other disciplines? No experience beyond high school mathematics is assumed, only an interest in exploring and appreciating the beauty of mathematics and its role in the liberal arts is required.

15. Games about Writing / Writing about Games

When we gather to play a game, we are coming together to tell a story. This course will explore games that explicitly produce a collaborative text, with each player using intuition and creativity and a sense of play in responding to other players' writing, including a card game that is created as play proceeds, a game in which players roleplay scholars writing a fictional wikipedia, and interactive fiction games. Because these games rely on the players' creativity, the resulting texts will be deeply influenced by who the players are. Of particular concern will be questions around social identity: how each player's many identities affect what we bring to the game, how we play the game, and how the game changes us. A large volume of written work will be produced each week. Student-players will be expected to engage creatively, collaboratively, and fairly with one another. In discussion and assignments, students will analyze the texts produced in play, and reflect on their play, the play of others, and the nature of games, texts, fairness, and fun.

16. Race Across Time: Race, Gender, and Culture in Futuristic Literature and Cinema

Since the earliest days of cinema and television, the concepts of time travel, alien encounters, and other tales of humanity’s future have been storytelling staples. In that way, these visual media share traits with novels, short stories and other literary genres. In each of these cultural forms, visions of the world to come run a full gamut of possibilities: from utopian images of global peace, prosperity and understanding, to dystopian nightmares of human enslavement, environmental collapse, and endless conflict. At the same time, these stories often share the all-too-common characteristic of unspoken cultural assumptions about race and gender hierarchies that are remarkably unchanged from what we experience today. Through critical discussions and written analysis, this course will examine these imagined futures in literature, film, and television, interrogating the ways in which race and gender are portrayed, as well as the normative assumptions that underpin how authors, screenwriters and we, as consumers of media, perceive the world of tomorrow.

17. Color

In his seminal and ground-breaking text Interaction of Color, the acclaimed 20th century artist and educator Josef Albers declared, “In order to use color effectively, it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually.” Though we often take color as a given, the experience of it exists only in the mind of the beholder. A purely visual phenomenon, color often defies explanation or description, even between sighted individuals witnessing the same subject. Though elusive, color can have great power and influence. Designers build careers around choosing colors that will sell the most laundry detergent, or cause you to drink the most coffee. How does color affect us? Is it direct and physical, or does color pull strings through psychological association? Can a selection of colors communicate content, or impart meaning? Is our perception and understanding of color universal, or culturally constructed? Through studio projects, readings, and discussions, we will sharpen our perceptions, and explore communicating with this subtle and mysterious phenomenon.

18. In Search of the Poet

Lorine Niedecker has been called the 20th Century’s greatest unknown poet. She was also a student at Beloit College from 1922 to 1924. Niedecker lived most of her life in a nearby town where no one knew she was a poet. Her small cabin had no electricity or plumbing and was often flooded by the Rock River. Despite—or perhaps because of—these circumstances, Niedecker became a leading poet of her time, and her star is rising even today. In this course we will read her poetry, biography, letters and related texts. We will also scour the college archives to learn what life was like for a budding poet at Beloit College in the early 1920s. Then, we will visit her cabin and interview community members and relatives to gain a deeper understanding of her life and times. Finally, we will attend the Lorine Niedecker Wisconsin Poetry Festival in nearby Fort Atkinson, where writers and artists from around the country gather to learn about and celebrate the poet. Students in the class will produce multi-media projects, including oral histories, digital stories, a public display, and perhaps even some poetry of their own.

19. Habits of Mind, Habits of Body

How much time will you study, work, sleep, socialize, and relax? What is typical and right for you and why? How will you negotiate these practices in your new, shared living and learning environment while forming relationships with new people? Students in this seminar will interrogate college structures, community norms, and personal habits as a means to develop individual and shared practices that advance personal and academic success. Using seven dimensions of wellness—emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual—as lenses for our exploration, we will study, observe, critique, write about, discuss, and reflect on how our personal practices are shaped by our previous experiences, identities, and the environments in which we live, study, work, and play. Readings and assignments will require students to adopt an interdisciplinary mindset and will enable students to develop the skills and habits of mind that are central to putting the liberal arts in practice.

20. The Costs and Benefits of Being the Best

Were your parents right? Can you be anything you want to be? All humans strive to stretch physical, technical, and mental boundaries. So what does it take to be the best of the best? Can anyone do it? This course will focus on the path of Olympic athletes as they ascend to the top of their game, while making comparisons to experts in other fields, such as music. Elite athletes must embrace grueling physical and psychological training, undergo harsh evaluation and criticism, and often take on a large financial burden for a slim shot at glory. When should they push through the pain, and when should they quit? Reaching the pinnacle of athletic excellence becomes even more complex for team sports. Do the best individuals combine to make the best team or are team dynamics more important? In this seminar, we will investigate the role of talent, practice, self-reflection, social identity, social structures, and the cost of being the best.

21. Immigration, “the Major Civil Rights Issue of Our Time”

In 2016, civil rights activist and scholar Angela Davis called immigration “the major civil rights issue of our time.” Why - who is affected and which rights are at stake? Students in this seminar will study United States immigration in its present and recent past. We will investigate topics such as DACA (Dreamers) regulations, deportation practices, sanctuary cities, and the requirements for asylum. We also will study where present immigrants originated and the reasons they entered the nation and compare present immigration policies to policies in recent U.S. history and internationally. The class will explore how various policy options and stances on immigration have played out for immigrants and their families, communities, policymakers, and the citizenry. In addition to studying immigrants and policy, the course emphasizes research, writing, and presentation skills.