The Freshman Experience at Stevens: Creating Community Beyond the Classroom

3/3/2014

To help educate and prepare this next generation of graduates for success throughout their undergraduate experience and beyond, the College of Arts and Letters (CAL) at Stevens Institute of Technology has created an innovative yearlong program for all incoming students called the Freshman Experience.

Comprising two complementary courses, one focused on academic research and writing and the other on humanistic inquiry, the Freshman Experience provides first-year students with the foundational skills necessary for succeeding in their undergraduate studies while also orienting them to college life.

Skills for a Data-Driven Society

In the classroom, students undertake a sequence of two-courses: Writing and Communications, and the CAL Colloquium. In Writing and Communications, students develop information literacy, using technology to find sources of information and learning to differentiate between different sources in terms of quality and accuracy.

“In any job, you have to be able to look at information, figure out what’s important about it, and craft a discussion on it to advance a point of view,” said Prof. Jennifer McBryan, the director of the program. “Since this is becoming a more and more complex task to undertake in today’s information-saturated environment, we dedicate a lot of time to it in class.”

However, the Freshman Experience goes beyond information literacy, preparing students for the future by exploring the works of some of the greatest thinkers of the past. The CAL Colloquium introduces students to the humanistic disciplines through small, discussion-focused classes that are structured by discipline, exposing students to influential works from history, literature, philosophy, the social sciences, art, and music, and drawing connections to the issues of today.

“During class, students are encouraged and expected to engage with each other and voice their thoughts about topics and ideas presented in the readings,” McBryan said. “They are actually learning how to examine evidence to formulate ideas, enhancing their critical thinking skills.”

Creating Community Beyond the Classroom

Because the transition to college life is both an exciting and challenging time, the Freshman Experience also includes diverse opportunities to interact with faculty and other first-year students outside the classroom environment.

Students and faculty take advantage of Stevens’ proximity to New York City with organized trips to cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Opera and Cloisters Museum. On a recent excursion to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, students viewed David’s Death of Socrates at the same time as they were reading about Socrates’ trial in the CAL Colloquium.

Earlier in the semester, faculty from both the College of Arts and Letters and Maritime Engineering joined students on an eco-cruise through the Meadowlands with the Hackensack Riverkeeper organization. The trip exposed students to the relationship between industry, policy and the environment, and sparked discussions about how local organizations can develop and influence an area.

Daniela Cardona, a freshman studying finance, said that the outing was a valuable way to connect with professors and others early on in her college experience.

“Before the trip, I got to see the Davidson Lab and learn about the history of Stevens,” she said. “I’ve always had a love for the environment and animals, and because I do not get to see it in my major, I enjoy taking part in events that give me the opportunity to either learn more or help the environment.”

On campus, faculty host small discussion groups called Salons throughout the semester, focusing on topics such as creative writing, graphic novels, literature, and science and technology studies, as well as open houses to connect with students in a relaxed environment.

“Today’s students must be able to connect what they’re learning in class to life experiences and things going on in the world in order to be successful,” McBryan said. “At the same time, we want our students to have a vibrant intellectual community from the moment they come to campus. That is the dual mission of the Freshman Experience.”

Learn more about the Freshman Experience at http://www.stevens.edu/cal/fe.

---

About Stevens Institute of Technology
Stevens Institute of Technology, The Innovation University®, is a premier, private research university situated in Hoboken, N.J. overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Founded in 1870, technological innovation has been the hallmark and legacy of Stevens’ education and research programs for more than 140 years. Within the university’s three schools and one college, more than 6,100 undergraduate and graduate students collaborate with more than 350 faculty members in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. Stevens is home to three national research centers of excellence, as well as joint research programs focused on critical industries such as healthcare, energy, finance, defense and STEM education and coastal sustainability. The university is consistently ranked among the nation’s elite for return on investment for students, career services programs and mid-career salaries of alumni. Stevens is in the midst of a 10-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., designed to further extend the Stevens legacy to create a forward-looking and far-reaching institution with global impact.