One-third of freshman class applies for new seminars

Yale’s new freshman seminar program went into effect this semester and has proven popular: around a third of the freshman class applied over the summer.

The year’s course offerings feature 16 seminars with senior professors that are designed specifically for first-year undergraduates. They cover subjects ranging from “German Culture, Arts and Letters” to “Radiation, Nuclear Physics and the Universe.”

The new seminars bring to fruition a recommendation in 2003’s comprehensive undergraduate curricular review that called for increased seminar offerings for freshmen.

About 420 freshmen who applied to the seminar program this summer, program coordinator Peter Quimby said. He said Yale expected to offer only about eight seminars in the first year, but was able to offer double the early estimate. During the spring, former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead personally recruited faculty members to teach in the program, Quimby said.

“Faculty members were really excited to have this kind of opportunity,” said Quimby, who is also the dean of Davenport College. “It’s a pilot program, so we needed to identify instructors who we thought would be able to help us figure out how to make the program work.”

Thursday morning, political science professor Steven Smith began his freshman seminar, “Democracy in America: Tocqueville, Lincoln and Adams.” He said he has taught seminars for seniors and graduate students but is excited about experimenting with the new freshman seminar program.

“I’ve taught Directed Studies for years and I thought the idea of doing my own seminar just for freshmen would be fun,” said Smith, who is also the master of Branford College.

Cassie Stoddard ’08 said she enjoyed the first meeting of her seminar on the natural history collections of Yale’s Peabody Museum.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” Stoddard said. “There are only about 12 kids in my class. As a freshman, I ordinarily would not have that opportunity.”

Though the demands of a deanship traditionally prevent deans from teaching, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler is teaching a freshman seminar called “Revolutionary America.” Butler, who taught a freshman seminar of his own accord in previous years, said early this week he was eagerly awaiting teaching the class.

“I love it,” Butler said. “I loved doing it for two years as an experiment, and how could I not? It’s a fantastic experience.”

With the seminars capped at 18 students each, though, there is not room for all the freshmen who applied.

Caroleen Verly ’08 said she applied to a cognitive science freshman seminar but was not accepted.

“Pretty much everyone I know signed up, but a lot of people didn’t get one because they didn’t have very many sections,” Verly said.

Some upperclassmen said they are concerned that their access to some senior professors will be limited if the professors teach freshman-only seminars.

“I think it’s good because freshmen can’t get into a lot of classes,” David Griswold ’07 said. “But at the same time, sophomores who are kind of in limbo don’t get the access that juniors and seniors do and we also don’t get access to these really cool freshman classes.”

But Wendy He ’07 said “that cozier class environment” will give freshmen a more chance to get to know their classmates than large lectures do.

Including Directed Studies, Perspectives on Science and the freshman seminar program, about half the freshman class is enrolled in a seminar course, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.

“It will get bigger, absolutely,” Salovey said. “These are just the ones we could get together this year.”

Hopeful students gather for an ultra-competitive residential college seminar, “Drawing for Non-Art Majors” in Green Thursday night.
Stephanie Dziczek
Hopeful students gather for an ultra-competitive residential college seminar, “Drawing for Non-Art Majors” in Green Thursday night.

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