Freshman Seminars: A First Year Privilege?

Freshman year is fondly remembered by most. For the first time, you are a fully independent being, free to do and eat what you want, and not yet overloaded with the rigors of upper division classes and adult responsibilities. However, it is easy to get caught up in the clamor of college life and miss out on one of the most valuable and exclusive aspects of freshman year.

The Freshman Seminar program, only available to incoming first years, offers a compelling array of 1 to 2 unit, pass/fail classes that cover topics ranging from “The Philosophy and Science of the Supernatural” to “Sex and Chocolate” to “Performing Stand-Up Comedy.”

These weekly seminars provide a break from the drudgery of calculus lectures, biology labs, and other general ed or major requirement classes. With no homework, exams, or assessments in these seminars, first year students are given the opportunity to diversify their perspectives and explore their interests in a manner that is academic yet stress free.

With a 15 person enrollment limit in each seminar, students get an intimate and personalized experience, a rare circumstance at a school of over 24,000 undergraduates. The instructors, who are passionate about the seminars, as they have to invent and volunteer to teach the topic themselves, create an atmosphere that is engaging and enjoyable.

Additionally, students have the opportunity to develop a close relationships with professors in an easy and personable fashion. As a biochemistry major I have been seeking research opportunities on campus. Yet emailing random labs or contacting lower division class professors has been to little avail. By taking freshman seminars tailored to my major like “Bioengineering the Heart” or “Introduction to Instrumentation,” I am able to meet and connect with professors who have a passion and career specific to my interests who can offer future volunteer, intern, or job opportunities.

Kevin Cheng, a graduate student in the biology BS/MS program, took full advantage of an opportunity granted to him through a freshman seminar. Currently, Kevin works in the Skeletal Translational Research Laboratory, where he and fellow researchers study knee osteoarthritis. He has been working in that same laboratory for 5 years, starting there his Fall quarter of freshman year after he was offered a position by a professor who taught the freshman seminar “Skeletal Translational Research.”

Like most freshman, Kevin wasn’t looking for anything specific. His decision to take the “Skeletal Translational Research” Seminar stemmed from his passion for bones and that the class “sounded cool.” “This opportunity more or less fell right before me… Admittedly, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into at that moment, but here I am now,” Kevin said.

Eventually, Kevin’s lab position evolved into a range of valuable opportunities including multiple publications in scientific journals, a clinical residency in Japan, and even a research project with NASA to send mice into space. “Looking back on it,” Kevin said, “my participation in this freshman seminar ended up with opportunities that exceeded my wildest expectations.”

Kevin was fortunate to take advantage of the seminar curriculum when he could. Unfortunately, the program is limited to freshmen only (there is a separate program for seniors only) and excludes the sophomore, junior, and transfer population, those who arguably need it most. According to Pasquale Verdicchio, Professor of Environmental Literature and Film and the teacher of the “Buddhist Meditation and the Four Noble Truths” freshman seminar, “it is good for everyone (freshman through senior) to get a sense of other courses. I had a degree in biology and was, regrettably, unable to experiment with my interests.”

Having access to the seminar program is beneficial to everyone, no matter what stage they are in their college career. If a student takes a narrow scope of classes then decides to switch disciplines later on, they will not have the chance to explore their options or find another passion. Additionally, transfer students, who enrolled at UCSD for a new experience, will not be able to take full advantage of all the school has to offer.  

With a purpose to introduce potentially interesting topics and encourage diversity in class options, the seminar program should be expanded to include all students. It is very rare that a student will finish freshman year with their entire academic career figured out and therefore could use access to a variety of non-major classes sophomore and junior year. Even for those who have their four year plan memorized before they enter college, it is valuable to incorporate a diverse schedule of classes to refresh the brain and expand perspectives.

Sophie Reynolds is a staff writer for The Triton.

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