Pitzer’s first-year seminar (FYS) program, launched in 1973, is designed to help students become more literate people who think, read, write, and speak both critically and competently. Each seminar topic and selected readings reflect the professor’s area of expertise and passion. All focus on close textual analysis, broadly conceived, and effective writing strategies for diverse audiences and purposes.
Reaffirming the FYS mission originally formulated in the 1973-74 Pitzer Catalog, first-year seminars are distinguished from many other courses offered at an introductory level not only by their small class size but also by their pursuit of a theme or problem rather than the intent to introduce students to a specific discipline or field. In this spirit, the seminars are meant to pique students’ intellectual curiosity and encourage them to pursue a focused interest in depth. Many incorporate activities outside the classroom, such as fieldtrips, engaging in discussion over a meal, and watching films or plays.
Required of all first-year students, FYSs are writing-intensive courses that fulfill the college’s Written Expression educational objective. During the course of the semester, students are expected to write upwards of 25 pages, including formal assignments and polished essays, in-class writing, and informal writing exercises outside of class. Drafting, peer review, and revising are central to the process-oriented view of writing that the seminars seek to foster. In response to feedback from the professor and/or their peers in the class, students will have the opportunity to revise at least 10 pages of their written work. Students are also encouraged to visit the Writing Center for additional feedback.
Near the end of the fall semester, the professor will provide an assessment of the students’ competence in writing. The evaluation, which will be sent to the students’ advisers, will state whether they have met the writing objective. Students who do not meet the writing objective through a first-year seminar will be required to successfully complete an appropriate writing-intensive course (i.e., a writing course or some other course designated as writing-intensive) before they graduate.
First-year seminars challenge students to achieve the following aspirations:
- Regard learning to write well as a life-long pursuit, not the accomplishment of a single semester or even an entire undergraduate career.
- Grapple with the ambiguity and complexity found within texts, which range from the written word to film, art, performance, and beyond; respond to texts critically and thoughtfully.
- Engage in an ongoing process of intellectual inquiry and “conversation” through writing:
- Appreciate and experience the creativity, independent thinking, and intellectual risk-taking involved in effective academic writing.
- Craft thoughtful and insightful questions worthy of investigation; raise significant problems.
- Recognize and contend with alternative viewpoints/counter-arguments.
- Identify research/information needs.
- Locate appropriate scholarly and popular sources.
- Engage with, evaluate, and draw inferences from sources.
- Craft a clear, arguable, and compelling thesis.
- Experience writing as a complex social interaction between writer and reader:
- Participate in an intellectual community of peers where writing and ideas are exchanged and critiqued.
- Rethink and deepen ideas through a recursive process of discussing, drafting, receiving and giving feedback, and revising at any and every point along the way.
- Gain awareness of audience and of voice.
- Practice writing as a form of critical thinking, rather than merely the achievement of sentence-level correctness.