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It’s easy to forget what it was like to be a freshman. GPA is nigh pristine, and college is full of mystery and opportunity. The shift from high school to college – ranging from a road trip to a transcontinental or even global journey – quickly becomes a daily routine of migrating from one class to another. And one big part of a student’s first year at Principia is the Freshman Year Experience (FYE).
Why individuals choose their particular FYE varies greatly. Some choose their FYE because of classes they took in high school. For Brie Burns, it was a comparative government class that sparked her interest in the philosophy and political science FYE, “What the (Bleep) Do We Know and How Do We Know It?” For Sam Soetarman, it was 11 years of playing piano and his love for music that drew him to “The Science of Sound: Math and Music.”
A desire to travel to Europe and partake in the liberal arts experience brought Amanda Breneman to “Does Art Reflect Life?,” of which she said, “you’re supposed to branch out and take things that you wouldn’t normally take.” Stephen Penfield, an Eagle Scout and nature enthusiast, found a home in the outdoor education FYE “Inside/Out.”
Natalie Cooper, an aspiring police officer, hopes that “Myth Busters: Power, Privilege, and Prestige” would help her understand more about the human condition in pursuit of a career.
Meanwhile, a number of factors – including experiences with acting, the love of the art and the pursuit of Broadway – brought Robby Butler, Elle Miller, Nik Peschke, Tim Steckler, and Raine Wu, to the acting and philosophy FYE “Love, Action, Consequences, and You.”
However varied the reasons that brought these students to their FYEs, what not only keeps the student in the class, but also captivates and fuels the fires of curiosity and diligence to the class, is what they have in common.
Burns noted how “the teachers are extremely engaged and all of the students really want to be there and enjoy discussing and sharing ideas and thoughts.” Wu specifically mentioned philosophy professor Chris Young, saying that he is “super into what he does. His passion about it really drives us, as his students, to want to explore it more.”
“He just throws these bombs of questions at us until we argue and point fingers and that’s promoted such awesome discussions,” Butler said about Young.
If a professor’s questions are a call to arms, then it is also up to the students to answer with as much vigor. Butler went on to add that through the class discussions his classmates “shared thoughts that make me really appreciate what they’re thinking about as a person. When we talk about things in philosophy and they go, ‘You know, I disagree with that because of this and that,’ I’d go, ‘I had no idea they were so into this class. They’re thinking about it as they’re falling asleep.’ They’re really enjoying this, and it’s made me draw closer to classmates in ways that I never would have expected to besides just, you know, good friendships.”
In these classes, students forget that they’re in a class sitting beside other students and instead realize they’re sitting among living, thinking people.
“The FYE program is a wonderful way to meet other freshmen that you have something in common with,” Burns said. “Some of my closest friends so far are in my FYE. I think that the FYE brings together like-minded freshmen into one class.”
Penfield said his love of the outdoors is because nature is “tranquil. It’s peaceful. Basically, it’s very helpful and regenerative when you’re trying to get away from the chaos of normal life.” His class reflects this. “It still feels like a college-level class, except when we do go outside. It’s rejuvenating because it’s not like you’re stuck sitting there, listening to a teacher lecture for hours on end.”
When the teacher becomes a personal, dynamic mentor instead of a cut-and-paste lecturer, and students see each other as more than a seat with a voice, the students are willing to overcome their own insecurities and voice their own inquiries. Cha Cha Fisher noted that her FYE has her “not taking what you hear in lecture for face value and challenging what the teacher says.”
Even without knowing much about a subject at all, somehow the class becomes ever more engaging as it forces the students to look inward. Butler commented on this when he said, “I had no idea what philosophy was about besides just great Socrates and Plato, great thinkers, you know, thinking about stuff, and coming up with theories, but we’ve talked about, so far, the nature of action and why we do what we do and do we have control over our own lives and is free will there.”
Steckler added, “What the teachers do a good job of is introducing a good pathway to really get to know professors and the way you work. It’s not only teaching the course material, but it’s also an empowering movement. It’s empowering other people, and empowering yourself, to angle your own education and take advantage of whatever class you’re in.”
The nature of an FYE challenges students to the core of their identity. “It’s made me more open to people’s interpretations,” Breneman said. Mackenzie Talcott added, “It’s challenged me as far as my personal political beliefs, but also academically because I’m actually thinking about being a business major, and then I took this class and now I’m thinking – if I can – I want to do a double major with poli sci and business, which I was not planning on doing before.”
“We’ve been delving deeply into the subject of defining action and what it means to be active and to have thought, physical motion and consciousness; it’s been extremely eye opening,” Peschke said. “I just think that it’s taught me a lot more about perceiving and delivering a message.”
Grant Lee, who is taking the “Myth Busters” FYE, said his class is “humanizing. It’s extremely humanizing. We view a lot about how hunger and repression has changed a type of people or has affected the way people live.” Coming out of the class, he hopes that he’ll “have a genuine new understanding of the world, a genuine want to change things, and a genuine want to succeed.”
Cooper spoke about the same class which she hopes “will take me further in my knowledge of the world.”
Yet for as good as an FYE could be, there can be a downside.
Soetarman said the FYE is “kind of bitter sweet. Yes, the topic is very interesting, and I feel that it can apply to me. But there’s so much homework. I’ve been talking to my other friends who are in different FYEs, and I get a lot of homework – a lot of writing, especially – which I’m not used to.” Steckler contrasted, saying the FYE is “an introduction to the expectations of college writing,” and a “really cool way to introduce freshmen to college life and college work in a very interesting way.”
Yet Cooper said that she doesn’t know “why we have an FYE. For myself, I already knew how to be organized. It wasn’t a learning experience. It was more like, ‘OK, I know.’ What I hear is that some people have a lot of homework, like a ton of homework. I’m like, ‘What? I barely have any.’ Maybe I just get it done in class. It’s not that it’s easy that I’m glad about, but it’s the knowledge, too. I think it’s pretty beneficial, and I think it’s really cool and interesting.”
Steckler emphasized the importance of being genuinely interested and invested in the class subject. “I know this from other people who have taken their FYE: you’ve gotta be interested in the area that you’re going into,” he said. “If you don’t have a clear-cut interest, then it’s not going to be that interesting to you.”
The choice of pursuit and purpose is heavy on these freshmen’s minds, as much, if not more, than anyone not in a time of transition. However, Peschke spoke from his heart and from what he’s learned in class when he said, “We’re coming from one source, we express that one infinite source. So that means we’re unlimited. Labeling is limiting – even good labels – because then you’re saying you can only do good in this label, when really there is more good that you can do.”