First-Year Seminars Making a Comeback

April 13, 2011 - Campus Bulletin

The University of Guelph will bring back its popular first-year seminars program in the fall.

The program — suspended two years ago because of inadequate funding — will return with support from a number of donors, including major gifts from the U of G Alumni Association and from Tye Burt, vice-chair of the Board of Governors and chair of the University’s BetterPlanet fundraising campaign.

Historian Jacqueline Murray, a former College of Arts dean whose seminars were among the program’s most successful courses, will become program director effective immediately. Seconded for a three-year period, she plans to improve and expand the initiative.

Introduced in 2003, first-year seminars are designed to provide an interactive small-group learning experience for new university students. Enrolment is capped at 18.

The multidisciplinary seminars have discussed provocative themes, including sex, climate change, science, communication, animal rights and human rights.

Seminar instructors are among the University’s most innovative, experienced faculty and administrators, and view the courses as a chance to share and indulge in their research interests.

“The program was designed to challenge the mind of the new student, introducing and polishing the skills needed for university-level learning while providing an engaging and fulfilling experience,” says Maureen Mancuso, provost and vice-president, who created the program.

“It was popular with students from the get-go. But the small class sizes made the seminars very expensive to run. It got to the point where we simply could not keep it going due to the University’s ongoing budgetary challenges.”

The U of G Alumni Association and Burt have each pledged $1 million for the first-year seminars program as part of the BetterPlanet campaign.

“These generous donations will allow Guelph to continue to be a leader in providing unique proactive programs and to hold true to our mission of being a learner-centred university,” Mancuso says.

Murray plans to recruit professors from across colleges and disciplines. “I hope faculty will see this as an amazing opportunity to extend their interests in both research and teaching, and to think about the link between scholarship and teaching and student learning and research.”

She taught seminars nearly every year and says they’re among her favourite courses to teach. By being challenged and engaged, students “learn how to learn, to experience the joy of learning.”

Watching that growth and development is rewarding, says Murray. “It’s an opportunity to have an impact on a student’s subsequent university experience. You have the chance to work with students from all disciplines and colleges, which is something that we don’t frequently have the opportunity to do. The synergy in a seminar with students from across programs interacting and working together is extraordinary.”

University of Guelph
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Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1