Members of Wilkes University’s First-Year Foundations (FYF) committee are encouraging full-time and tenured professors to teach subject focused FYF classes, rather than the current system where the courses on offer are more broad and aren’t necessarily connected to a specific major.
FYF is a first year 3 credit course students take in the fall semester. Currently, students can choose from around fifteen FYF courses and the topics currently range from World Politics in the 21st Century to Global Warming to American Culture and Values.
According to the Wilkes University website, the FYF program aims “to provide rigorous learning experiences that challenge first-year students to develop the strategies essential for a successful transition into the Wilkes campus community.”
Dr. Edward T. Bednarz, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, was elected chair of the FYF committee, and since the creation of the committee last year, he has been involved in a number of changes.
Berdnarz said that he wants to encourage more full-time faculty members to teach more subject specific courses in the future.
Currently, the majority of FYF courses are taught by part-time professors, and are not subject specific.
“This year we are piloting two classes that are Engineering Design FYF classes, it was written as strongly recommended for engineering majors but we didn’t want to exclude other majors,” Berdnarz said.
“I wanted to have a freshman level engineering class to introduce engineering to freshmen who are straight out of high school, and show them the cool stuff of engineering so they aren’t just getting bored with the math and other fundamental courses,” he said. “I would really encourage other faculty members from other departments such as pharmacy, nursing, business to try and come up with their own freshman level course too.”
A key issue Berdnarz pointed out was that full-time professors don’t have the time for FYF classes.
“There may be full time faculty members that do want to teach FYF, but their schedule just doesn’t allow for it. That would probably have to come from higher administration,” he explained.
FYF is not only subject based, but also includes guest speakers that teach freshmen how to register for classes, see their advisers and use the library. However, Berdnarz highlighted this as a potential issue as to why full-time professors might not want to teach the courses.
“Professors in the past didn’t really like that we had so many guest speakers coming in, as it would interrupt the flow of the course. So we really try to whittle that down to the bare minimum of interruptions and try to make them relevant to the course,” Berdnarz said.
A big change was the new system in which students get to choose their FYF course. Regarding this Bednarz said, “before they would schedule their classes first, and then whatever room was left over meant they would be put in the FYF that fit their schedule best.
“Now it’s the reverse, we’re giving them the option to choose first and we try our best to schedule the rest of their classes around them.”
Berdnarz added: “This really wasn’t the case before the committee existed. Students can now read through course descriptions and see which ones interest them.”
This year 86.6% of freshmen were placed in one of their top FYF course choices, and 51% of that figure recieved their first choice FYF topic.
Berrdnarz acknowledged that FYF isn’t favored by some individuals.
“There really has been a lot of complaints about FYF over the last several years. The perception is that it is a broken program, and we want to show that this is a relevant course,” he said. “FYF helps with the transition from high school to college, and it is the only course that specifically does that.”
“It is also the only course every Wilkes freshmen has to take, so it’s the only common experience, and we are trying to make it more of a sense of community amongst the freshmen, too,” Berdnarz added.
Despite the improvements made over the course of the year, some freshman highlighted the issues they face within their FYF courses.
Although she received her first option, Lindsay Becker, a freshman criminology major who is in the “Exploring Mars Through Lego Mindstorm Robotics” course, said: “Although it is fun, I don’t think I’ve learned anything. The library visits seem forced and so does the entire course.”
A freshman political science major, who wished to remain anonymous and is part of the honors FYF course, “Learning Through Leadership,” told The Beacon: ‘I think the idea of leadership is a good and popular enough topic to make the class interesting. However, I don’t like the fact we have 3 hours of it once a week based on full-on lecturing.
“A couple of times we’ve done bonding activities and leadership activities, such as rock climbing or cooking, and that is fun and helps develop leadership skills, but the lecturing and the 3 hours of theory a week really leaves all of us without retaining any of it.”