FYE Revisions Underway: The Importance of Writing from Day One

Within the Annapolis Group, an association comprised of 130 selective liberal arts colleges from across the country, Colorado College represents a mere 5 percent of schools that have only a first-year seminar and not a first-year composition course and/or writing seminar. Thus, when comparing CC to its peer institutions, it represents a minority, and not necessarily the cool, unique, quirky portrayal CC strives to foster.

However, all of this may change as early as this coming fall.

Photo by Celia Herdic

The Curriculum Executive Committee is currently working to revise the CC all-college requirements. They have been meeting and discussing this revision for over a year now—a process that was partially jumpstarted by a student petition airing grievances about some of the college’s graduation requirements, such as the Social Inequality and consistently unpopular West in Time requirement.

In addition to tackling the existing all-college requirements, the CEC is also closely examining and re-evaluating the FYE program. The CEC is formalizing proposals now and hopes to present them during Blocks 6 through 8 of this academic school year. The FYE replacement should be presented to the faculty this block, according to Gail Murphy-Geiss, sociology professor and member of the committee. Since proposals are far from finalized at this point, specifics on the possible revisions cannot yet be released to the student body and broader community.

Most students actively vocalize their opinions on requirements such as the West in  Time, but what do current members of the CC community think about FYE and its future?

Harper Tice ’20 said she thinks FYEs across the board need to be more standardized. She recalled her own experience and how different it was from many of her peers’. In particular, she cited the wide-ranging levels of difficulty in the courses, and how these disparities do some first-years a disservice by not adequately preparing them for future classes.

Tice, a sociology major, also said there should be a more consistent, mandatory writing component to every FYE course so professors can “get everyone on the same page about writing expectations.”

Several other students echoed her opinion; they agree that writing is an integral part of the CC experience—and more importantly, a crucial skill beyond the walls of the classroom—and thus should be more intentionally included in all FYE courses. This sentiment is shared across majors not typically associated with writing, including math, neuroscience, physics, and organismal biology and ecology.

Malcolm Gabbard ’19, a math major, asserted the intrinsic value of writing for every CC student, regardless of major or intended future profession. “No matter what your major is, writing skills are absolutely crucial,” Gabbard said. “As students try and get internships, jobs, to get published, etcetera, they must be able to convey their ideas effectively.”

Alison Takkunen ’19, a neuroscience major, recalled her own transition to college and argued for the necessity of providing students with the help they need to be successful from the moment they step on campus. “I came from a public high school, and it was very apparent in my FYE course that my writing was not at the appropriate level for this institution,” Takkunen said. “Therefore, streamlining the FYE courses and addressing students’ issues and strengths of writing within the first two blocks of time at CC could be beneficial in later courses.”

Tracy Santa, director of the CC Writing Center and Writing Program, agrees with the students; ideally, FYEs should more pointedly help develop and advance students’ writing abilities. Upon close examination of previous FYE syllabi, Santa found that “only a minority of classes seemed to offer writing instruction but that the majority of classes did ask students to write.” “That distinction is something I’ve been parked on for most of my time here,” Santa said. “The distinction between assigning writing and offering some degree of explicit instruction.”

Ralph Bertrand, a math professor, taught the FYE “Viruses: Mathematical Modeling of Epidemics” last fall. He too said there should be a more focused, mandatory writing component in every FYE because “students need to recognize that writing in the different disciplines is very different than their experience in high school.” He hopes incorporating writing in the FYE program will provide students with at least “some idea of what level and type of writing is expected” on a college campus.

Michael Grace of the Music Department recognizes both the importance and breadth of writing at CC. He appreciates that writing looks different across disciplines and can take a variety of form from lab reports to research papers to analytical essays. However, regardless of discipline or form, Grace sees writing as foundational to any CC student.

“I might imagine that in some sciences, the emphasis might be on lab work. Whereas in some humanities, the emphasis may be more on the writing itself,” Grace said. “I believe there should be some writing component that is evaluated as writing per se in each [FYE] course. Improved writing will serve the students well for the rest of their lives, not to mention the rest of their college careers.”

According to Santa, the FYE program has not changed significantly since its conception in the early 2000s. While the surface-level organization has been altered, it has maintained its core identity as a support tool for first-year students. Faculty and staff hope the upcoming revision to the FYE program will make it truer to its mission and a more effective support tool for all future first-year students while maintaining its core value of student empowerment both in and outside of the classroom.

There are three current students on the CEC—Helena Thatcher, Jack Truesdale, and Hamiyyet Bilgi. If you have a suggestion, comment, or concern about the revisions underway, please feel free to contact any one of these students directly.

Grace Perry

Grace Perry

Grace Perry has been writing for the Catalyst since January 2018. She is a sociology major and double minor in journalism and Spanish.

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