College seminars see continued demand

Though long-term plans for the Residential College Seminar program are still unclear, this semester’s 21 seminars again attracted far more applications than there are spots.

Finalized course demand statistics will not be released until the end of shopping period, but preliminary data shows that most seminars attracted between 40 and 60 applicants for 18 spaces, with a few courses drawing well over 100 applications.

“The particular value of college seminars is that the subject matter often deals with topics outside a traditional academic department, and the instructor often brings an interesting perspective from outside the University,” newly appointed program coordinator Aisling Colon said. “The difficult budget climate over the last few years has forced some cutbacks, but it is hoped that the program will return to previous levels.”

Following the departure of long-term director Catherine Suttle in December 2010, the program underwent a review last January given concerns over its cost. In part because of these financial constraints, the program offered a reduced number of seminars — hovering between 12 and 15 — until last spring, when 20 were available. Colon said the review also concluded that college seminars provide “a very valuable complement to the Yale curriculum.”

Peter Amos, a postdoctoral fellow in the Medical School who is teaching a seminar offered through Yale College titled “Perspectives on Stem Cells,” said 87 students formally submitted online applications for his class before the start of term and over a dozen additional students have emailed him since the application deadline.

Several students interviewed expressed dissatisfaction with the competitive nature of admissions to college seminars.

Eric Stern ‘15, who is taking his second residential college seminar this year, said he had to be “persistent” in displaying his interest and relevant experience in order to gain acceptance to a Timothy Dwight college seminar titled “Ethical Dilemmas of Legislators” last year. He emailed the professor before applying, he said, and later attended the first meeting even though he was waitlisted after the initial application.

Beth LaBossiere ’14, who took a college seminar last year and is currently waitlisted for another this semester, said the hurdles students encounter when applying filter out those who are less motivated.

“All the people in the class want to be there,” LaBossiere said. “You don’t have slackers. You don’t have people browsing Facebook during class.”

All five students interviewed said they were drawn to college seminars because of the diversity of topics covered and the chance to take a class taught by someone with experience that is not strictly academic. Stern, who will take Amos’ course this semester, lauded the program for presenting students with opportunities to delve into specific research topics corresponding to his academic interests.

College seminars offered this term include “Documentary Photojournalism of New Haven,” “Literature and Film of the Uncanny,” and “Policing America,” taught by New Haven Chief of Police Dean Esserman.

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