Over 1,100 take first-year seminars this year, highest ever

By
Tuesday, March 3, 2009

After falling slightly last year, first-year seminar enrollment for the current school year has been larger than ever.

Between the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 academic years, the number of first-year seminars offered rose from 56 to 74, and total enrollment rose from about 800 to over 1,100 – the highest level since the program started in 2002, according to Registrar Michael Pesta.

“Things are back on the upswing,” Pesta said, adding that last year’s dip may have been due to “any number of circumstances,” including professors taking sabbaticals and significant turnover in the Dean of the College’s office when seminar offerings were being planned.

According to Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, an increase in the size of the faculty under the Plan for Academic Enrichment enabled the program’s growth. Though the Corporation recently announced that it will slow faculty hiring to deal with projected losses of income, “the budget reductions in the College will not affect the First-Year Seminar program at all next year,” Bergeron wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

“Since we are expecting an additional modest growth in the faculty for next year, we anticipate that the (first-year) seminar program will remain on a strong footing,” she wrote.

Bergeron wrote that there will be 72 first-year seminars taught during the next school year – a slight dip from the 74 offered this year. She said the decrease would not affect the program’s goal of offering enough first-year seminar slots for the entire freshman class, typically numbering about 1400 students.

But Pesta said it’s “hard to tell” exactly how many seminars will be taught next year, since departments hire new professors and course offerings tend to change even after the course booklet is printed.

Students interviewed by The Herald said they felt having classes restricted to first years made taking seminars less intimidating

Natan Last ’12 said his first-year seminar, MUSC 0021B: “Reading Jazz,” has been one of the best classes he has taken at Brown. “It’s you and a bunch of people talking for two hours and twenty minutes about music we all love,” he said.

Because first-year seminars are capped at 20, students must enter a summer lottery for spaces in a course.

Though Mariel Heupler ’12 received her first-choice seminar, ANTH 0066L: “Singing and Language,” last summer, she said she remembers students in the “Class of 2012” Facebook group vying for spots in particular classes.

The program seemed popular, she said, adding that “everyone was complaining about not getting their first pick.”

But unfortunately for Heupler, the program did not meet her expectations.

While she “got all excited about the idea” of a small, discussion-based course, “because we were all freshmen, no one really participated” in her seminar, she said.

Still, Cici Matheny ’09 said she envied the underclassmen who have been able to take advantage of the expanded course offerings. “I tried to get in one my freshman year and it was just impossible,” she said.