The transition from high school into college has been much different than I expected; my mentors haven’t abandoned me after day three, like in high school; my schedule doesn’t leave me so crippled with homework that I’m unable to function normally; I’ve found friends and I’m starting to feel like I belong at Pacific.
However, not everything has been so smooth. I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of roommate disagreements, weekends spent sick in bed instead of enjoying college life and most importantly, my FYS class.
All incoming freshmen are required to participate in a four-credit, three-session-per-week class with a randomized faculty adviser from the university’s many disciplines. Students are typically grouped together according to their original room assignments, and are supposedly working together to reach the ultimate goal of “creating and critiquing information,” the ideal goal of FYS, according to Dr. Lisa Szefel, the program’s director. Sadly, this statement is more of an ideal than a reality.
In all actuality, FYS for many students is an opportunity to bond over books they hate, subjects they’re not interested in or jokes they share while studying for finals they don’t believe they will pass.
Though rumor has it this year’s freshman class novel, Alice Hoffman’s “The River King” was a step up from previous reading requirements, many students took an early distaste for the book and have continued to view it that way.
Next, there is the wide array of departments involved within the FYS program, but yet, no existing method for students to have a say in their placements. As a potential education major, my environmental science-based professor certainly has a lot to offer, but not to me. For students who are undecided majors, I believe that this variety is a great opportunity to explore the diversity that our university has to offer; however, for students who have an idea of what they’d like to study, perhaps the program would benefit greatly with a chance to better select their interests.
Sitting down to talk with Szefel gave me a great deal of insight on the FYS program and it really opened my eyes to a lot of neat things the program is meant to do. Despite our concerns about whether or not the subjects are relevant, or whether the writing focus is being completed well, there really are many benefits to the program.
“It’s so much more than just another class, it’s a whole experience,” said Szefel. “We aim to immerse our students into the true liberal arts program, to teach them to explore and create information rather than just consume it.” In addition to just the in-class components, new additions to FYS include activities for the entire class of 2016, such as a chance to see “Sweeney Todd” onstage in downtown Portland in late October, or various trips to explore locations like the B Street Permaculture Center.
But even Szefel admits that the structure of the program is flawed in places. “Because of the nature of FYS, sometimes it happens that we lose students not up to the class level or the class won’t challenge those who came prepared.”
Despite the program’s best intentions, we must ask ourselves whether or not this is truly working. Are the classes we take and the lessons we’re supposed to be learning really worth the time and credit space? Are freshmen genuinely benefiting from these classes or do they simply act as a half-hearted attempt by Pacific to connect students to the place they’ve selected over thousands of institutions throughout the nation?
As a student body, we are truly the ones with the power to change this system. Talk to your professors and your mentors; tell them what you need to succeed here and ask how they can help you get there. If you think you would have benefited from choosing your department rather than being randomly placed, include that on the freshman year evaluation we’ll all eventually receive—or if you’re an upperclassman with the same woes and wishes for a better transition, take a moment to write a respectful email to the FYS department.
Though the FYS program isn’t the most well-loved at Pacific, it’s definitely an important one that won’t be going away anytime soon. The best we can do is work to find a solution and make our first classes something to remember fondly, instead of a memory that will irritate you for years to come.