First-Year Seminar (FYS) - Getting Schooled: The Promises and Problems of College in America


  • Julie Sievers The University of Texas at Austin


This course takes several unique approaches to the first-year seminar—a staple course in the curriculum at many liberal arts-focused institutions. FYS courses at this institution, as at many others, are offered in a small, face-to-face format twice per week for new first-year or transfer students, and they provide an entree into engaged forms of learning grounded in reading, discussing, and writing about ideas. In this FYS course, two elements introduce novel and effective strategies. First, the course content focuses on social problems related to higher education, particularly ongoing controversies around a) the purpose of higher education; b) inequity in access to higher education; and c) teaching and curricula in college.  By focusing on a topic that is both familiar to students but also new as a subject of scholarly analysis, the course connects students’ personal experiences to pressing public questions about higher education, situating their lives and challenges within interdisciplinary frameworks, including historical, political, economic, philosophical, and sociological lenses. It also introduces new forms of multi-media writing through social annotation activities and a podcast production assignment linked to a written research paper. As such, it offers several approaches to the first-year seminar course that have proved especially rich for students.