Building Using First Year Seminars to Examine Community Engagement

Michael Slavkin, Assistant Professor of Counseling, Psychological Science and Counseling, Marian University, Holly Gastineau-Grimes, Director of First Year Seminar (FYS), Marian University.

This session examines how first-year seminars, a common curricular practice in use at many institutions in Indiana, can develop a sense of community engagement through the seminar. Exploring common themes of anti-bias curriculum, service-learning, and engagement, the session will explore the opportunities for post-secondary students to be introduced to the importance of examining community and the common good during their first semester on campus.

What does it mean to belong to a community? How important is it to feel involved, engaged, and accepted? This presentation will delve into what it means to be a member of a community by examining the importance of First Year Seminar (FYS) courses on teaching the importance of engagement with the college community and the greater community at large. A sense of belonging to a greater community improves our motivation, health, and happiness. This presentation will help other faculty and community partners journey through opportunities for group collaboration, community service and engagement, and consideration for what it means to be an included member of society.

Many in our world currently face challenges that limit their feelings of inclusion. The presentation will pay special attention to exclusion, marginalization, and social constructs that divide us during hard times. As we explore and embrace voices of those who have been excluded, especially those who have felt excluded by mainstream society. To be a part of the majority means exploring why others have been left out, and how we can work to use our status to make changes that create inclusivity, collegiality, and equity. As such, this presentation is particularly beneficial for anyone with an interest in the helping professions, such as counseling, social work, nursing, education, or psychology.

This is a seminar presentation, meaning that your participation in class discussions and activities will greatly influence your success. You should feel comfortable to express your thoughts, be critical and challenging, ask questions, and utilize this opportunity to extend your knowledge base of the community as well as how to navigate the collegiate environment.

With these cognitive and social goals to guide us, the following are the objectives of this presentation:

  1. After the presentation, you will be able to apply concepts in this presentation with other concepts learned and lived in the conference’s focus on the Common Good.
  2. After the presentation, you will be able to gain personal access to crucial issues and develop a civic awareness and demonstrate civic literacy.
  3. After the presentation, you will be able to relate your learning to instances of civic responsibility in FYS courses.
  4. After the presentation, you will be able to practice the arts of public discourse in the experience of democracy.

This presentation is a Spark Session, and will be designed to be a high-energy activity-based presentation. The focus will be on working with faculty to first explore the role of first-year seminars in college education, with an emphasis on why the courses can be of benefit in helping students examine the importance of community engagement from their first semester. The remainder of the hour will be spent working with faculty on examining themes of FYS courses and example activities that help develop a sense of (1) anti-bias, (2) community activism, and (3) social activism. Cornerstones of the FYS experience target writing and literacy, so assignments and activities related to these skills will serve as a backbone for conversations.

At one time in American society, youth were actively called upon for service to their country. Whether it was the families who fought to survive and make a better home during the Great Depression or the men and women who served in wartime: people need to serve. During one part of our history, college students challenged the status quo, questioning the government about its politics. Yet the last decades have been deemed one of the least socially active for youth in our history. Why? What role do you and this presentation play in changing the tide of inactivity? There are needs that must be addressed in our communities that have been ignored as of late.

To live in a better world, we must begin to rethink who we are in relation to our communities. In essence, this is a presentation that will help us to reawaken the connectedness to our world. The method of instruction for this presentation AND course is called problem-based instruction, meaning that you must begin by recognizing a problem/issue (knowledge/comprehension skills), apply your knowledge to develop a response to the problem/issue (application/analysis skills), and, through your experience, understand new and personal ways of understanding the problem/issue (analysis/synthesis). FYS is a course where students should actively learn what it means to be socially active and responsible.

Of great importance to students learning into the 21st Century is an understanding of the implications of living in a society that has been divided based on race, ethnicity, class, religion, and sexual orientation (often granting power to a select few and privileged). As a result, much of our material discussed in the presentation will be supplemented with primary and secondary accounts by authors of color, who have come to know our country, communities, and life experience in very different ways.

The presenters have worked with first-year experiences at several state institutions over the past decade. The presenters also have worked with community engagement and service-learning, and have been trained as Indiana Campus Compact research and teaching partners in the past. They will use their past teaching and community engagement experience to provide opportunities for participants to consider their past course assignments and how community engagement can be incorporated into their FYS courses.

Individuals who teach at institutions with first-year seminars or freshman core programs would benefit from involvement. Further, faculty who work within the general core curriculum and first-year experiences also would benefit from participation.

Although some service-learning experience is beneficial, it is not necessary for participation.