First-year seminar: More than just a requirement

First-year seminar classes give students the opportunity to create a comfortable community and provide a collaborative learning environment. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. 


As incoming students begin their classes, first-years are experiencing their first-year seminars. First-year seminar, or simply called an FYS class, is a course that every incoming Butler University student is required to take by the core curriculum. FYS classes have been a unique program at Butler and have continued to evolve and grow for the last 15 years, according to Dr. Hilene Flanzbaum, faculty director of the core curriculum and director of FYS and been at Butler through many phases of the class. The university hopes that through its evolution, students will continue to become more excited for it each year.

Pre-COVID-19, seminars have been taught in many different ways. Students sometimes received a required “common read” over the summer in the mail, so they would have a topic of discussion in common with other incoming students. Not every year has had a required reading, but this year’s first-years have been reading “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Rebbeca Solnit. The program has changed over the years, but its goal has always been to bring students together, create community and inspire passion.

“There have been many iterations of [FYS classes] since when I first came thirty years ago,” Flanzbaum said. “It was very straightforward EN 101 — that was really boring.”

Flanzbaum explained that she helped bring the idea of FYS classes as we know them to Butler. Instructors of this course are given the opportunity to pick their own topic, and then create a curriculum and reading list to follow suit. This aspect makes first-year seminar classes incredibly unique.

“[The point is] to have [classes] around a topic and people try to explore what they’re interested in,” Flanzbaum said. “We wanted to make it more attractive to students … You can’t get people into writing through stuff they’re not interested in.”

Lexi Schell, a senior speech, language and hearing sciences major, discussed how much her FYS class influenced her future classes throughout her time at Butler. Schell took the “women writing the world” FYS class.

“It was something I hadn’t been exposed to a lot in high school,” Schell said. “It honestly helped me choose a [global and historical studies]. I centered a lot of my coursework around women empowerment, and I got a lot more out of it.”

First-year seminars bring many opportunities to students who are arriving on campus for their first year at Butler. One aspect stressed was the community it can give to incoming students and help aid the transition from high school to college. Majority of the time, students’ first-year seminars are with the same group of students they were with for orientation week, letting them be more comfortable with each other and in the classroom. FYS classes offer a unique opportunity to succeed in college classes through a topic that students are more likely to be passionate about.

FYS classes are standard collegiate courses, aiming to introduce new students to learning styles in a more fun and exciting atmosphere. Many FYS instructors additionally teach other core classes, but the position to teach first-year seminars is unique in that the staff is able to pick their own course topic.

“I’m willing to put [FYS] faculty up against any faculty in the country because the people are so good,” Flanzbaum said. “They care so much … Nobody makes them teach this. They only come into the program because they’re really excited about teaching first-year seminars.”

Dr. Natalie Carter, senior lecturer in the English department, teaches a first-year seminar titled “women writing the world.” Carter has taught this course every year since she began teaching at Butler 10 years ago, including when Schell took it with her in the 2019-20 school year.

“There has been a constant emphasis on each professor who teaches FYS, to really give them the freedom to pursue their own intellectual interests while also combining that with the core elements [of the classroom] that we have to fulfill,” Carter said.

With each instructor given the opportunity to teach a topic they are interested or passionate in, there are a wide range of classes offered. This year, there is a “Stranger Things” course, personal well-being, science writing and so many more. Any topic an incoming student may be interested in or would like to learn more about is more than likely offered.

Because of this wide variety of course offerings for FYS classes, many students feel more passionate about their class and are eager to learn. Flanzbaum stresses not to pick a course topic just because it fits into your schedule, but to put thought into what you are passionate about.

“My favorite part of [FYS] is the students,” Carter said. “It’s such a beautiful place to witness intellectual growth and personality expansion and people coming into who they actually want to be.”


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