The planning committee for Syracuse University’s 37th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration is seeking nominations for the Unsung Hero Awards. The Unsung Hero Award nominations are due on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 11:59 p.m. Nomination forms can…
First-Year Seminar Curriculum Rewards Lead Instructors With Connection
Why do faculty and staff from across the University volunteer to lead sections of the First-Year Seminar? Consuelo Endrigo-Williams and Rhonda Chester do it for the connection with students and the life of the University outside the boundaries of their primary jobs.
Endrigo-Williams has been a part-time instructor of Italian in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics for the past seven years. “My approach is to teach Italian in a light and fun way, to create an environment where students feel comfortable learning,” she says. Endrigo-Williams is using some of the same techniques as a lead instructor for the First-Year Seminar (FYS 101).
“I create an inclusive class environment that encourages first-year students to address difficult social topics through sharing their ideas with respect and openness,” she says. “Students can openly and respectfully share their ideas without feeling like they are putting themselves at risk. I enjoy helping students understand the Syracuse University philosophy of inclusion, which contributes to building the SU student experience.”
Endrigo-Williams always liked to meet first-year students and work with them, but says the new FYS 101 has developed in a way that really helps students take advantage of the campus experience.
The First-Year Seminar course is part of a change to the undergraduate curriculum approved by every Syracuse University school and college in 2020. Along with the diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) course requirement, the First-Year Seminar is part of a commitment the University made to students in the 2019-2020 academic year requiring all students to take courses covering DEIA topics.
Chester, the United Methodist Ecumenical Chaplain for Hendricks Chapel, sees her role as a FYS 101 lead instructor as different than her primary role in providing spiritual care, but ultimately aligned with her goal of contributing to a community where students can be comfortable being themselves and connecting with people from different backgrounds. “Chaplain Rhonda,” as she is called on campus, reflects on her six years with the University and approaches her classes with empathy.
“I think a lot of our students are still struggling with the world that we live in,” she says. “One of the things I tell my students every week is to be gracious and gentle with themselves. They’re in college for the first time, during a pandemic, and the rules keep changing. There’s a heightened sense of frustration because they want to be normal, but it’s not a normal time.”
The FYS 101 curriculum encourages self-reflection through activities, journaling and other activities. Endrigo-Williams says the new curriculum is effective.
“My students are very engaged during the class-time activities and discussions and in their writing assignments,” Endrigo-Williams says. “They seem very introspective and relate to discussions of identity, values and the experiences of others.”
Chaplain Rhonda Chester agrees. “All of us who lived through 2020—how could you not have been affected mentally, spiritually and emotionally? So now they are here engaging in a curriculum that is challenging them to think about tough issues contextually. The students have a sense of open-minded curiosity, they want to lean into the issues and know how they can do and be better.”
“Students bring their whole selves to Syracuse University,” she adds. “FYS 101 recognizes that. I think the students see it. And when I speak to people who have already graduated from the course, the feedback I always get is, ‘I wish I had that in my first year!’”