Freshmen enroll in Deans’ Seminars

More than 300 freshmen are currently taking a variety of courses specifically designed for the Class of 2007. The newly expanded Deans’ Seminars classes are open to all first-year students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

The sections include “How Things Work,” “Music in Times of Crisis” and “Abraham Lincoln: The Man and the Legend.” The number of available seminars increased from 10 last year to 51 this year, including more than 20 this semester.

The three-credit seminars provide freshmen with the opportunity to develop one-on-one relationships with professors and be in relatively small sections, officials said. They are capped at 20 students.

“The small classes allow more student-professor interaction,” said Professor Earl Skelton, who taught “Prospects for Life in the Universe” last semester. “This course was different. Last year, my three astronomy courses all had a student-professor ratio of 100-to-1.”

Students enrolled in the seminars said they like the environment.

“I took this class because I thought it would be a good opportunity for me. It’s a small class, so everyone gets more individual attention,” freshman Christina Jenkins said.

The courses are also unique in that they encourage different teaching styles and methods, officials said.

CCAS Associate Dean Mary Anne Plastino Saunders, who taught a human development seminar last year, said her students conducted interviews about services for the disabled.

“Kids like it when they learn the information in context,” Saunders said.

Skelton’s class interviewed NASA astrobiologists and critically examined astrobiology Web sites. He said the hands-on projects were effective because many of his students were non-science majors.

“If you’re a physics major taking a mechanics course or a med. student taking anatomy, it will be a very intense course,” Skelton said. “But since many of the students were liberal arts students, we took a more casual, fun approach.”

One Deans’ Seminar course this semester examines how filmmakers present Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Students said they appreciate the course because it is different from the traditional English class.

“I think it’s interesting, because in high school, we covered all of Shakespeare’s works,” freshman Molly Conway said. “It’s good that this course is focused because we get to dissect the play scene by scene.”

In 1999, the Columbian College inaugurated Deans’ Seminars. When he came to the school a year and a half ago, CCAS Dean William Frawley made the classes a major focus of the school. Seminars were promoted through the CCAS Web site, letters to incoming freshmen and discussions at Colonial Inauguration.

“In some ways, these seminars are the hardest courses around, because of their focus, but they are also the most fun,” Frawley said. “What could be more exhilarating and useful than exercising your brain in this way and exploring and debating with others the most serious and pointed academic issues we face?”

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