CCAS launches required First-Year Experience course

Media Credit: File Photo by Anthony Peltier | Photographer

Officials added the First-Year Experience course to the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences' general education requirements, which make up the second tier of the school's general education curriculum.

The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences will require incoming freshmen to take a one-credit course to prepare for their academic and professional careers starting this fall.

Rachel Reidner, the associate dean of undergraduate studies for CCAS, said students who take the weekly, 50-minute First-Year Experience course will learn how to make “well-informed academic decisions” and meet with staff from various GW offices, like the Center for Career Services and the CCAS Undergraduate Advising Office. Students can register for 88 sections of the course this fall, a significant boost compared to the 11 sections last fall that required departmental approval to register, according to the University’s course registration portal.

“We believe this course will introduce first-year students to the breadth and depth of the liberal arts and introduce students to the resources that GW and CCAS has to support them in their academic journey,” Reidner said in an email.

Reidner said CCAS piloted the First-Year Experience course during the last academic year and decided to make it a requirement this year as part of an effort to introduce new students to the GW community. She said she and CCAS advisers designed the course in line with the other GW schools’ required first-year courses, like the Elliott School of International Affairs’ First-Year Experience course that launched in fall 2018.

CCAS officials added the First-Year Experience course to the college’s general education requirements, which make up the second tier of its general education curriculum known as G-PAC, according to the CCAS Undergraduate Advising Office.

Denver Brunsman, an associate professor of history who will teach a section of the course this semester, said students will draft a four-year schedule of the classes they plan to take to fulfill their potential major and G-PAC requirements. He said they will also go over their four-year plans with their advisers, draft a resume and work in groups to create presentations about two GW offices, like the Office of Student Financial Assistance and the Office for Study Abroad.

“That’s one of the things I really appreciate about the course because I think a lot of students don’t always know about the full-time staff and all the great resources at the University,” he said.

Brunsman said although the assignments for the course are standardized for all sections, the curriculum allows space for the “personality of the individual instructor.” He added his expertise in history is what encouraged him to share the letter of advice that George Washington wrote to his nephew, George Steptoe Washington, when he began college with his First-Year Experience students as a way to welcome them to the course.

“There’s certainly a lot of room to share our own insights, either in terms of our own academic journey or our experience at GW because one of the goals is that all freshmen will at least have a close connection to one person on campus this way,” he said.

Brunsman said students in the course will learn the basics of how to be a college student, like how to take advantage of professors’ office hours, and reflect on what they want to get out of their college experience.

“I think sometimes students are so engaged in completing the required classes, moving on to a major and things like that, that they might not always stop to kind of think about the big picture and why they’re being asked to take different classes,” he said.

Freshmen taking First-Year Experience this semester said they look forward to learning more about the University’s resources and meeting other students.

Holland Ley, a freshman majoring in political science, said he first heard about the course through his orientation group meetings before registration, and is looking forward to learning more about what it is like to be a student at GW and meeting other freshmen.

“I don’t know what the class is really about, but the name says it all, so I’m interested in knowing what it’s about and meeting other freshmen,” he said.

Ley said the small, seminar style of the First-Year Experience course will allow new students to feel more comfortable engaging with each other in class.

“It just makes it more easy for you to get to connect with other students than the other classes where, since there’s bigger size classes, you might struggle a little bit or just not feel as comfortable and feel a little shy,” he said.

Roxie Parker, a freshman double majoring in journalism and political science, said she did not originally register for the course but received an email from the University informing her that she was required to register for a section this semester.

“I literally know nothing about it because I didn’t know it existed, but I guess I heard from other colleges I was looking at,” she said. “I know these classes are common.”

Parker said the education that freshmen will receive on the academic and personal support available to them through GW is a “valuable aspect” of the course.

“The whole point is to introduce you to the school and the city, so I’m sure we’ll be doing that, and I look forward to that,” she said.

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