CLA adds required freshman course

Surveyed students say they have not found the new course worthwhile.

by Tyler Gieseke

Incoming freshman have mixed reactions to the newly required introductory course in the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts this year.

The two-semester course, which includes an online component as well as required reading for the summer, was developed by a team of CLA administrators and will be required of all future CLA freshmen.

An informal survey of 50 CLA freshmen done by the Minnesota Daily found that so far this semester, 78 percent of students said the class was not a worthwhile use of their time.

“Right now I feel like it’s kind of busy work,” said political science freshman Mark Rugnetta.

But senior Jillian Ryks, program assistant lead for the course, said that feedback thus far has been “mostly positive.” In terms of feedback on areas to improve, she said, “I think a lot of it’s technical.”

About one-third of students surveyed by the Daily said that the class should be required for all CLA freshmen.

The two-semester course offers students one credit each semester and includes both in-class and out-of-class learning experiences, said Marissa Lehman, CLA student services coordinator.

Although assignments are primarily online, Lehman said the course offers students some in-person components and opportunities to connect with a peer mentor.

Goals for the course include introducing students to the breadth and diversity of CLA academic programs, assisting students in adapting to life at the University and giving tools to aid in the transition from high school, said CLA Dean James Parente Jr.

There are about 90 sections of the course, with each focusing on one of 14 themes, like exploration of potential majors, the University Honors Program and the 2012 election, Lehman said.

In the course, students will spend time reflecting on their values, interests and motivations, as well as goals for their college experience, Lehman said. Students will also learn how to use University advising services and strategize about how to thrive in college.

“We know that a lot of our most successful students do these things already,” Lehman said. “It’s designed to provide the structure and organize those experiences.”

Students in the course will all read the same book, Parente said.

“Never Let Me Go,” by Kazuo Ishiguro, the book for this year, explores many topics related to the liberal arts, such as political policy, psychological well-being and ethical issues about medical practices.

During Welcome Week, freshmen attended a discussion of the book led by CLA faculty and staff. Parente said he lead a group of more than 200 students.

“I was very, very pleased with the discussion section that I led,” he said, citing the “very high quality of the responses.” For him, the discussion was evidence that “this book really worked.”

Student reactions to the novel and the course have varied.

Rugnetta said the book was “very depressing but interesting as well.”

“I started reading it, and it was horrible,” said freshman Tony Starkovich.

The University conducted a student survey at the beginning of the semester, said Chris Kearns, the assistant dean for student support services, and more than half of the respondents said they could use more strategies for connecting with faculty members. One aim of the introductory course is to teach these strategies.

But some students don’t understand the reasoning behind the course, Kearns said.

Liberal arts students in particular, he said, like to ask a lot of “why” questions. Next year the rationale behind the course and assignments will be explained to students earlier.

“There are some people who think we should take a different approach,” Kearns said.