[Fresh] First Day of Class

John Immerwahr (jimmerwa@email.villanova.edu)
Tue, 31 Aug 1999 13:39:13 -0400

A posting from Fresh@News, Villanova's E-mail News Service for parents
and friends of the class of 2003. (Details on how to subscribe and
unsubscribe are given at the end of this message. Please do not reply
directly to this message.) For those of you who subscribed only
recently, we have also appended our posting on New Student Orientation
which was sent out last week.

Interview with Dr. John A. Doody, Robert Birmingham Professor of Core
Humanities, Assistant Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Fresh@News: Every student in the class of 2003 takes Core Humanities
Seminar. Can you tell us about the program?

Dr. Doody: We started the Core Humanities Seminar (CHS) program in 1992
because we wanted our students to learn to read difficult historical
texts, discuss them critically in a small group setting, and write
thoughtfully about them. We also wanted to avoid large classes where
students could sit back and listen to a lecture, without being forced to
engage actively with the material. The only way we felt we could do
this was to have every student enroll in a small seminar-style class
with no more than seventeen other students. Everyone in the class of
2003 had his or her first session on either Wednesday or Thursday of
last week.

Fresh@News: What sort of thing will they be doing?

Dr. Doody. Most of our students will begin the semester by being deeply
immersed in texts from the ancient world. Most will start the semester
reading Plato, the Old Testament, or Greek Tragedies. Only by the
spring semester will they be up to the modern world. (A few of the
sections start with the modern world and do the ancient in the spring.)

Fresh@News: The joke is that Villanova students get to be
"Y1K-compliant" -- they spend their first semester becoming prepared
for life in the year 1000.

Dr. Doody. We feel that our students will never really understand the
issues that dominate the modern world without understanding the
background and foundation. As they struggle with these difficult texts,
they begin to realize that many of the things they take for granted
today are the results of passionate debates hundreds of years ago. It
gives them a depth and perspective that really can't be acquired any
other way.

Fresh@News: How do the new students react to CHS classes?

Dr. Doody. I think students really enjoy the intellectual companionship
that forms in many of the classes. The classes are small and there is an
emphasis on discussion. As a result, students get to know each other
well, and this gives them other connections aside from the ones they
formed in their residence halls or in their orientation groups. They
also find the work challenging, especially at first. There is a lot of
reading and the reading is difficult. Many students feel initially
uncomfortable when they are challenged to articulate and defend their
ideas in class. Usually by the end of the semester, it is one of their
favorite classes.

Fresh@News: What can parents do to help and support their students?

Dr. Doody. I would give parents two pieces of advice. First, don't be
surprised if your student is overwhelmed and intimidated by college work
in the first semester. Students can be initially frustrated by courses
like CHS; the questions that they discuss are challenging and difficult,
and they find that their teachers often raise questions rather than
giving easy answers. Second, try to steer your student away from an
overly vocational and short-term view of college education. Students
sometimes say things like this: "How is reading Homer's Iliad going to
help me be a lawyer, doctor, engineer, accountant, or nurse?" All of
the employers are telling us that they want students who are well
rounded and who can think, write, and communicate as well as having
specific skills and training. Our graduates and senior students
invariably tell us that their humanities classes, especially Core
Humanities Seminars, are an important part of their learning. Encourage
your student to take the view that he or she is here to become an
educated person, not just to get a job. Parents can also browse our
web site at: www.villanova.edu/academic/artsci/arts/corehum.htm. This
site is still under construction but some faculty members have detailed
information about themselves and their courses.

For new subscribers: here is a copy of our first posting which went out
last week.

This posting is an interview with Kathy Byrnes, Assistant Vice President
for Student Life and Director of 1999 New Student Orientation.

Fresh@News: We've just completed the four-day New Student Orientation
Program at Villanova, and most of us who watched it or participated in
it thought it went very well indeed. What is the secret?

Ms. Byrnes: At Villanova, Orientation is planned and implemented by
students themselves. All of the students who work on Orientation have
been new students themselves, and they are constantly asking themselves
about what will work best with new students who are just a few years
behind them. Indeed, we expect that many of this year's new students
will themselves volunteer their time to work with us on Orientation in
the years to come. The students really make the program happen.

Fresh@News: What are some of the high points of Orientation?

Ms. Byrnes: I always enjoy the excitement and nervous energy of opening
day. The students arrive with a certain amount of fear and trepidation,
excited about their new lives but also anxious and a bit scared. Even
by the end of the first day you can see the students starting to relax
and feel at home; and you can watch them begin the process of making new
friends, many of whom they will keep for the rest of their lives. Being
part of the experience is most gratifying.

Fresh@News: A number of people talked about Professor Jackman's speech
to the whole class at the ceremony on the last night. Can you tell us a
little about it?

Ms. Byrnes: Professor Jackman (who is in the Communication Department)
is one of our most popular professors. He told the new students that
their four years at Villanova would be a wonderful journey, and he
suggested that they pack light for the trip. He asked them to leave old
baggage behind (such as their fears and anxieties), and he asked them to
pack seven things: work, integrity, leadership, duty, curiosity,
ambition, and teamwork. After talking about each item for a few
minutes, he told the class that if they took the first letter of each of
those words, they would spell out "WILDCAT." He also told the students
to keep in touch with their parents and families at home. "Don't let
them think," he said, "that you have gone into the witness protection
program."

Fresh@News: There is an enormous amount that the new students cover
during Orientation, including academic advising, orientation to
Villanova's technology, and sessions on many aspects of campus life, but
the program also has some really fun activities for the students. Tell
us about that side of the program.

Ms. Byrnes: One of the most successful activities, which we did for the
first time this year, was to take the whole group of students off
campus for a baseball game at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia. It was
quite a sight to see 1600 students pile into 38 buses and leave
Villanova for the game. At the game, a student musical group sang the
national anthem and one of our new students, Brian Meyers (from
Pittsburgh) was chosen by lottery to toss out the opening ball. It was
a beautiful summer evening, and the students had a wonderful time. The
whole stadium seemed to pick up on their high spirits and enthusiasm.

Fresh@News: What are some of the developmental issues that you see for
first year students at Villanova.

Ms. Byrnes: It is normal for students to have some complaints,
anxieties, and bumps in the road, and to feel a bit homesick. College
is a big transition, and it takes students awhile to feel at home and to
forge new links. I would also suggest that parents not take at face
value what students say about their new maturity and independence. Home
is still very important to them, much more important than they may be
willing to say. The old advice, "Don't turn your new student's bedroom
into your study right away," has a lot of wisdom. It is also a time
when students need to acquire new skills. Time management is an
especially big problem for students with all of the distractions of
college life, and they often think they are doing better than they are.

Fresh@News: What can parents do to help?

Ms. Byrnes: We have a lot of resources here at Villanova to help our
students, and parents might want to take a look at the Student Life web
site to see what is available: www.studentlife.villanova.edu. If your
student is having a problem in a particular area, you might suggest that
he or she contact the office that is there to help students with that
issue. There is also an interesting reading list for parents at
www.parents.villanova.edu. We feel that this is an outstanding class
and that they are off to a good start. We look forward to seeing many
of you at Parent's weekend.

--
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