Motivated students get academic jumpstart

There is an old Chinese proverb that is at the heart of WSU’s Freshman Seminar program:

I hear and I forget,
I see and I remember,
I do and I understand.

This week nearly 40 research groups formed during the spring semester of Freshman Seminar will be presenting their findings Monday through Thursday from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in CUE 403 and 405. An awards ceremony is planned for Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. in CUE 403.

Among scholars, a research symposium is, in some sense, like a colorful, vibrant community market. Instead of browsing for baubles and bargains, market goers browse for new ideas or thoughtful insights, a different way to consider the world.

In this week’s Freshman Seminar Research Symposium, first-year students are producing the thoughtful insights and the rest of us are invited to consider the possibilities.

One research team is presenting “Sexame Street, from the Bottle to the Brothel: Child Sex Trafficking in South Asia.” Another is considering “The Ancient Plague of Athens: Ebola or Something Else?” “Two Thumbs Up for Sweatshops” is another group’s provocative title.

Ashley Ater Kranov,
assistant director of the Student Advising and Learning Center in charge of Freshman Seminar, said the program is one of the oldest learning communities on campus. It was created for first-year students who wanted a small-group experience where they could more fully engage with the course material in dialogue with other first-year students.

While Freshman Seminar was conceived as an academic enhancement, Ater Kranov said over time the emphasis shifted to social goals and has only recently returned to a rigorous academic focus.

While some people confuse Freshman Seminar with Freshman Focus, the goals of the two are different, she said. Freshman Focus, which began last fall with nearly 80 percent of freshmen enrolled in two shared courses, is attempting to foster student engagement and a sense of connection to the course material and to each other on a large scale. The target group for Freshman Seminar is more select: motivated students looking for an academic jumpstart for their college career.

Freshman Seminar is an option for students enrolled in World Civilizations, Biology 107 or a handful of other general education courses. Students in those classes also can enroll in a one-credit seminar where they discuss readings related to their shared course and work in groups to develop an independent research project. Faculty members from the shared courses meet regularly with the seminar groups but, along with WSU librarians, they are advisers only.

Instead, the course is led by a graduate facilitator working with two or three undergraduate peer facilitators.

“They are the teachers,” said
Consetta Helmick, instructor for Biology 107. “We are the back-up people.” Helmick said she has been very impressed with the facilitators she is working with, Courtney Williams and Lia Coyne.

“They are both just outstanding,” she said. “They are doing a phenomenal job.”

The job they are doing, along with the other course facilitators, is attempting to foster the critical thinking and research skills that will enhance every student’s ability to learn — at the university and after.

“It is truly a wonderful program for students who are just beginning the college experience,” said Williams, a graduate student in the College of Education. She said she is constantly encouraging students to be open to new experiences, be engaged and take control of their learning experiences.

“College is what they make it,” she said.

“For some of them, this is a totally different ballgame from what they ever experienced in high school,” said
Deb Nelson, an instructor for Human Development 101. “I think it is wonderful, I really do.”