University News

Most sophomore seminars see low enrollment

Smaller class sizes for seminars created by strategic plan foster better discussions, some instructors say

Contributing Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2014

As shopping period draws to a close, enrollment in some of the seven sophomore seminars being offered this semester remains low, with only two out of the seven seminars filling all 20 of their seats.

Thirteen sophomore seminars are being taught in the 2014-2015 academic year as part of the updated Diversity Perspectives in Liberal Learning course designation, The Herald previously reported.

Though there may be less interest in the seminars than was originally expected, several professors said the smaller enrollment has had a positive impact on the courses.

While his course RELS0200A: “Christianity and Economic Equality” allowed up to 20 students to register, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Andre Willis said he believes seminars should be between eight and 14 students to provide a setting where students “have more access to one another and to the professor.” Five students are currently registered, which Willis said he feels is “right in the zone anticipated.”

Willis said he was eager to teach a sophomore seminar because “sophomore year is a crucial watershed moment between having to choose a concentration and still feeling new to college.” He said his course is going “exceedingly well” and that he would “definitely teach another in the future.”

Onesimo Almeida, professor of Portuguese and Brazilian studies, who is teaching POBS0915: “On Cultural and Personal Identity,” said he prefers seminars to have between 12 and 14 students.

Almeida formerly taught a similar seminar for juniors and seniors that sophomores often tried to get into. When sophomore seminars were created as part of President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan, he decided to “redesign the course at a sophomore level,” he said.

There are currently seven students enrolled in Almeida’s seminar, according to Banner.

“It is good to be able to discuss issues in small intimate settings,” Almeida said, noting that “freshman seminars have been successful and should be replicated because sophomores don’t have many opportunities to be in small seminars, and this gives them that possibility.”

Students expressed similar sentiments about the benefits of small class sizes in sophomore seminars.

Spencer Roth-Rose ’17, who is enrolled in the course POLS0920A: “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism,” said he is grateful to be in a seminar that is “very small by most class standards available to sophomores.”

“Political science especially is one of those subjects where there is a ton of back and forth,” Roth-Rose said, adding that “In such an intimate setting, we can really get to the heart of the merits and flaws of libertarianism. … Seminars also just force you to close your laptop and listen, and that in and of itself is something that doesn’t happen enough in college anymore.”

Brock Lownes ’17, who is also taking Bleeding Heart Libertarianism, said he is enjoying the experience.  “You are really able to engage in the material deeper than one would in a lecture,” he said, adding that “We really delve deep into conversations about our readings.”

Though Oakley Friedberg ’17 was originally registered for ENGN0130: “The Engineer’s Burden: Why Changing the World is Difficult,” he chose not to take the course because 50 students were shopping it and were promised overrides. Despite the 20-student cap, 35 students are currently enrolled in the course, according to Banner.

“I felt like this was out of touch with the philosophy behind having small seminars in the first place,” Friedberg said. “The class’s failings were clear when the TA was trying to facilitate a discussion, as if to a small intimate group, which was seriously flawed in that it was impossible to thoroughly debate or talk through an argument” with such a large number of students, he said.


  1. I’d like to see some sophomore seminars on how to improve Brown’s education.

    • Time to move on, John says:

      John I can’t get over how pathetic your consistent Brown bashing is. You clearly are displeased with the University but I think maybe you should get a hobby. Clearly credentials define your existence — I’m certain you will mention your time at McKinsey to who ever disagrees with your unfounded opinions. So here’s an idea: you want Brown to be more like Harvard and Stanford, right? Then why not just go pick up a degree from one of those places? Such a shame that your blog — our only resource for “bringing Brown into the 21st century” is down now. If only you could reply with a link to set me straight!

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