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Indiana Jones, witches and wonder: Freshman Seminars examine non-traditional topics

Professor David Canton leads a freshman seminar in a residence house common room.
Professor David Canton leads a freshman seminar in a residence house common room.

"Locating Indiana Jones." "Witches, Weirdness and Wonder." "Robotics and Problem Solving." If you thought freshman classes at Connecticut College were all nuts-and-bolts 101 courses, think again. Freshman Seminars at the College are small (15 max) and examine a range of non-traditional topics, from Indiana Jones and the illegal artifacts trade, to witches in German fairy tales, to building robots to solve problems. "Freshman seminars guarantee that every student gets experience with a small class and college-level writing," says Dean Theresa Ammirati.

"It's a chance for them to get to work with experienced faculty in a discussion-based class and to get personalized feedback." The purpose of the seminars is to develop students' ability to formulate arguments, write convincingly and develop speaking and debating skills. Seminars often examine topics that are not major-based, which lets students take a class outside a major and gives faculty the opportunity to teach new subjects that departments do not ordinarily offer. The classes can deal with topics like "Made in China," "Contemporary Chinese Art and Politics," "Women and Religion in India," and "Biology and the Popular Media."

"The courses are all writing-intensive," says Ammirati. "But since they don't have to be a major prerequisite, they give faculty more freedom to teach a class they wouldn't normally teach." Professor of History Jen Manion is teaching "Social Justice Movements in U.S. History," and says she is excited to introduce students to the fight for racial justice in America. "When I was an undergraduate, I studied African-American history and the civil rights movement," says Manion.

"It forever changed my understanding of race in America. I look forward to challenging students' notion of citizenship, rights and justice while opening their eyes to the struggles of those marginalized and oppressed." About half the freshman seminars offered every year are residential seminars, which means students live in the same residence hall and the class meets in the residence's common room. This offers students the opportunity to continue discussions after class and collaborate on projects more easily.

"We find that students in residential seminars have a chance to bond in the residence," says Ammirati. "Students say they get to know each other well and that discussions continue after class ends. They feel more involved as part of a close group." - By Franz Ritt

April 29, 2011