Million dollar ideas: How the College should spend money donated to freshman seminars

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January 28, 2013

10:05 PM

If you had $10 million to improve a program, what would you do with it? Due to recent budget problems, the College of William and Mary has not had the luxury of discussing this recently. Thanks to a generous donation from the Hunter Smith Family Foundation, the College now has $10 million to improve freshman seminars. Freshman seminars at the College affect every student and can have a serious impact on students’ academic paths in college, so we anticipate the changes this money could bring, especially paired with the restructuring of the curriculum.

With more funding for freshman seminars, the College will be able to offer more innovative classes that often cost more money, such as those that take place off-site and allow students to gain first-hand field experience. With funding for more creative courses, the administration can promote research at the College.

Early integration of research-based learning into the College’s curriculum helps prepare students for the larger projects they will face as juniors and seniors. Traditionally, freshman seminars focus on learning to write a research paper; however, conducting original research requires more intensive learning about the research process. Research-based freshman seminars will help students develop research skills necessary later in their college careers. Additionally, freshmen can start learning early on about the research projects already ongoing at the College and can begin working toward those projects that traditionally have been open only to upperclassmen.

Research-based freshman seminars with more specific subjects will encourage freshmen to be proactive and erase the need for general introductory freshman seminars. This donation allows for freshman seminars tailored to the research and interest of the professors; professors’ excitement will encourage student engagement in the classes. As students take freshman seminars in specific areas that interest them, these seminars will help students understand what research in that field actually looks like.

As this money enables freshman seminars to become more research intensive, some of the money should be used for instructor training so professors are prepared to teach these redesigned classes. Freshman seminar professors should be mentors to their students, enforcing rigorous writing standards and offering academic advice. Research-based freshman seminars should require students to develop writing skills that will help them beyond their college careers. These classes have the chance to prepare students for post-undergraduate writing, in the work force or in graduate school. Freshman seminar instructors also can help fill the role of an academic advisor, helping students find more research and funding opportunities in their field and discussing how these skills relate to other areas of study students may wish to pursue.

Because of this donation, the College has the opportunity to enhance the experience of every freshman at the College. We hope the administration optimizes its use of this money to improve the College academically through a stronger emphasis on undergraduate research.

Katherine Chiglinsky recused herself from this editorial in order to remain unbiased in her reporting.

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