Creating community through a shared 1st-year curriculum

Every fall newly admitted students arrive on the Hilltop for New Student Orientation
—ready to unload plastic totes, meet their roommates, walk down the Ped Mall for the first time during opening convocation, and hug their families goodbye. It’s a common first-year student experience at Cornell.

First-Year Seminar books for 2019
First-Year Seminar books for 2019

Another common experience for first-year students is the First-Year Seminar (FYS), which takes place during Block 1. Since it became a degree requirement in 2011, FYS has always attempted to assist students with their transition into college academics and, in particular, into One Course At A Time. This fall students will have a newly transformed FYS experience, because all 19 first-year sections will share common coursework and texts.

“The First-Year Seminar courses are less about the content, which will have a liberal arts focus, and more about the skills new students will need to support their success,” says Associate Dean of the College and Professor of Sociology Erin Davis. “Having similar experiences and being able to share their ideas in and out of the classroom on common texts helps create community amongst students.”

All FYS sections will share a common syllabus, encouraging creative and critical thinking about works from a variety of disciplines. Although all 19 sections will have their own professors, students across sections will focus on cultivating careful reading, discussion, and writing skills. Academic support services and resources, as well as a student success component, will be introduced to the students, emphasizing personal well-being, social connectedness, and academic preparedness.

“All the students will start out on the same playing field,” says Registrar Megan Hicks. “The professors are not necessarily teaching in their area of expertise, so they are learning some of the content right along with the students. They are demonstrating the importance of lifelong learning. FYS is more about learning how to learn and how to take in new content, rather than about the specific content areas.”

In a course dedicated to teaching students how to learn, it makes sense that the students would end their course writing a final reflection, a piece referred to as the Final Curated Journal. In this final assignment, all the liberal arts components of the First-Year Seminar come together as told by the students themselves.

Students will read part or all of the following:

  • David Christian, “This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity”
  • Rene Descartes, “Meditations on First Philosophy” (1 & 2)
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Letter to My Son”
  • Natasha Trethewey, “Native Guard”
  • Carlo Rovelli, “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics”
  • Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home”
  • Brown, Roediger Ill, and McDaniel, “Make it Stick:
The Science of Successful Learning”
  • Keith Hjortshoj, “The Transition to College Writing”