First year seminars help pave the way

October 13, 2008

For Leanna Webb ’12, taking the first-year seminar titled, “Born to Buy: America’s Consumer Society,” has been an eye-opening experience.

“It has made me realize how much emphasis our society puts on money,” said Webb, who is majoring in Philosophy, with a minor in Spanish. “I always knew that. But it’s amazing how much emphasis we put on spending without even realizing it.”

Sara Raley, assistant professor of Sociology, said she created the course – new to the first-year seminar offerings this semester – because she saw it as an ideal way to get them to look within themselves as well as the larger society. Money, and how they spend it, is something to which all students can relate, she said.

“It’s a good way to acclimate them to college life,” Raley said. “This is a topic where we can talk about the sociology of consumption, and it’s something they can connect to.”

First-year students at McDaniel are required to take a first-year seminar during their initial semester. The courses are designed to help students make the transition from high school to college. The courses, which include a focus on developing writing and research skills, also are devised with an eye toward encouraging students to work together.

First-year seminars are limited to 15 students, and the professor serves as the students' academic advisor for the first-year.

This semester, students selected from a menu of 30 first-year seminars that cover a range of disciplines and interest areas, such as “Principles of Accounting,” “Myths and Stories of India,” and “America’s Game: Baseball.”

Students in a class titled, “Our Unseen Enemies: Emerging Viruses,” are learning the science behind viruses and how to separate fact from fiction about the threat that various viruses pose on communities.

“We use statistics to evaluate how much a threat a particular virus may be,” said Susan Parrish, assistant professor of Biology. “We’re looking not just at viruses, but the implications on society.”

The courses also challenge students to think about their roles in the college community and beyond.

For example, students in “Environmental Problem Solving” are investigating the causes of acid rain and the levels of acidity in local waterways. For one project, students are expected to pretend they are world leaders who are considering ways to eliminate their carbon footprint.

“I’m hoping they take away some understanding of how people investigate the world around them,” said Hali Kilbourne, assistant professor of Environmental Policy and Science. “I want to open up their eyes to the problems people are causing out there and some of the solutions to those problems.”