Find Your Place debuts at Sewanee

Photo by Kimberly Williams ('17)

by Leah Terry

This year, Sewanee piloted First Year Programs, a course designed specifically for freshmen, to help integrate them into Sewanee’s intellectual environment. However, just as the Office of Admissions advertised, it was “not your typical FYP.” “There are all sorts of first year programs. PRE is a pre-orientation program. There are a lot of those out there. What’s rare is to combine learning with a sort of pre-semester orientation program,” Professor Deborah McGrath, the program director, explained.

The 106 participants arrived on campus Aug. 11 for the first segment of the course, interdisciplinary immersion, giving them two weeks of study before the rest of the University began classes. During this time, they took classes, attended plenary lectures, and went on hikes around the Domain. Unlike other FYP programs, these students rigorously studied the history of Sewanee, fitting FYP’s alternate title, Finding Your Place. However, the course is far from over, and FYP participants will continue to take the course as one of their four classes for the semester. The students will receive credit for the class as an elective, and it will also satisfy a PE credit.

The students were broken up into groups of approximately fifteen people, each with its own professor and advisor. The professors, Deborah McGrath, Virginia Craighill, Bran Potter, John Willis, Gerald Smith, Jim Peterman, and Chris McDonough all volunteered to teach the course, and each brings a unique perspective. For instance, Professor Peterman teaches FYP under the subtitle “Honor and Justice,” and Professor McDonough, under “Here and There, Now and Then.” Currently, the FYP students are in the second learning segment, perspective development. They meet with their professor once a week for class, which is centered more on a perspective from their professor’s field of study.

In October, the third segment, Capstone Conversations, will begin and students from all groups will collectively meet once a week to bring the ideas they gathered from the second segment into a larger discussion. Because the course was so densely packed during the first two weeks, it is scheduled to end midway through the semester, meaning that when it is time for finals, the participants will only have to worry about three classes.

In general, the participants feel that FYP was a worthwhile experience. “It basically taught us that Sewanee is more than just the Domain – it’s also all the people around it and the history that made it,” Paige Williams (C’17) said. However, the course still has some kinks to work out. The students found that they had very little free time, since their day was scheduled full of activities, and even when they had finished for the day, they still had reading to do to prepare for the next day. As the course progressed, though, the professors realized this and began adjustments.

The cost of the course was included in tuition, meaning that it wouldn’t be a financial burden to the students. At the end of the initial two weeks, students had the option to participate in PRE or to go on a community exploration trip in Alabama. This unique course was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis foundation, to pay for the first two years the course is offered. After that, the University hopes to continue the program, but will have to find funding from a different source.