As Yale-NUS settles into its second academic year, new people and new ideas are arriving on the Singaporean campus.
The school’s second freshman class of 170 arrived last month, more than doubling the previous number of students on campus. The school also received 20 new faculty members. Yale-NUS is not slated to move to its permanent campus until January 2015, but the arrival of a new and bigger class is livening up its temporary campus.
Due to an expansion of arts departments at the school, a large portion of the new faculty members are teaching subjects such as dance and music. Outside the classroom, the extracurricular scene is more in flux than it was before. New groups are popping up all over the temporary campus, as the current freshman class, unlike the former, is allowed to start its own clubs and activities. Pre-existing clubs are also growing rapidly in numbers and achievements.
But Yale-NUS still defines itself by its exceptionally small size.
“A lot of [the new students] knew each other already and the first night everyone was running around and giving each other hugs,” Dean of Students Kyle Farley said. “New incoming [students and returning students] were reunited on move-in weekend as if they were old friends.”
At the orientation program this year, Farley said, the new freshmen arrived before the sophomores so that they could forge an identity as a class before developing relationships with the inaugural class.
Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said he is impressed by the amount of energy of the student body and their level of interaction amongst themselves.
“There’s that great start-of-the-year positive feeling,” he said. “We’re not yet a full-size college but we’re getting critical mass, you could say.”
A HAND IN THE ARTS
Lewis said faculty hiring has intensified over the last few months both to accommodate the growing student population and to broaden the span of disciplines and subjects taught at the school.
This year, the school is pushing particularly to increase its proportions of senior faculty, Lewis said. Lewis said his goals for the school are long-term, though the school prides itself in being responsive to student demand. The recent expansion in the field of the arts is reflective of this approach, he said.
“I’m more thinking of what their ultimate class profile is going to be like,” he said. “We realized that the arts were underrepresented and wanted to have [a team of faculty members] for when our permanent facilities open in the new campus.”
Yale-NUS Director of Art Joyce Mark said there is a demand for arts from students, and the demand will only fully be satisfied after the move to the new campus — where there will be the space for practice-based and integrated arts electives.
Director of Student Music Jason Rosenberg said that although the arts are growing the most this year, the initiative is not new.
“All over the globe, music and the arts have been an essential component of classical well-rounded educational systems. Thus, having an arts program and various curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular offerings in the arts has long been part of the plan,” he said.
DIFFERENT YET STILL THE SAME
Though the new class is entering a school that is more established than it was last year, the students’ academic experience will still be very similar to those of their predecessors.
Many of the academic requirements remain the same for the freshmen, Lewis said. They will take the standard four Common Curriculum courses this semester, and a choice of one elective in the spring.
Although according to Lewis and Bailyn the Common Curriculum will not be subject to review and change until next year, the faculty is looking for ways to allow more specialization in the electives students are allowed to take during the second and third semesters at the school.
While freshmen are immersed in their four required classes, sophomores are enjoying more freedom of choice than they’ve had since they started at the college.
Evannia Handoyo, a second-year student, said the Common Curriculum allowed her to make the most of the classes she is taking this year.
“I think we are now reaping the benefits of a common curriculum and because we had such a shared intellectual experience last year, our class discussions are very productive,” she said.
Tinesh Indrarajah, also a sophomore, said that there is a wide enough variety of electives for all students to be satisfied with the classes to which they are assigned.
In terms of academics, Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn said the school is hiring in virtually all areas right now, partly because students have not chosen majors yet and the majors themselves have still not been fully designed. Faculty members have come up with good general descriptions of the majors, he said, but are still in the process of turning them into specific course sequences.
But assistant professor in Physics Shaffique Adam said he thinks the school would benefit from continuing to hire in all areas.
“I personally don’t think we are anywhere close to the point of diminishing returns,” he said.
A MOVEABLE FEAST
Students, faculty and administrators agreed that the part of life has changed the most this year is the extracurricular scene.
Since freshmen and sophomores will not run into each other in class, Farley said, all inter-class engagement is happening outside the classroom.
Jamie Buitelaar, a first-year student, said the guidance of the sophomore class helped the freshman class harness its own identity.
Tamara Burgos, another first-year, said that although freshmen have the opportunity to start their own extracurriculars, many have found their interests satisfied in pre-existing ones.
Anh Vo ’14, a Yale graduate who is working at Yale-NUS as a Dean’s Fellow, a position similar to Yale’s freshman counselors, said freshmen at Yale-NUS are fortunate to have upperclassmen who have a year of college experience to serve as peer mentors and friends.
“We‘re still at the stage of getting to know each other, but the extracurricular scene has exploded with activity. There is less pressure on us to stretch ourselves thin and more space to narrow down our interests and strive for excellence,” Handoyo said.