Syracuse University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) was recently created through a merger of the Office of Institutional Research and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. The streamlined operation, located at 400 Ostrom Avenue, serves all members…
First Year Seminar Rewarding for Students, Faculty and Staff Alike
The First Year Seminar (FYS 101) was established at Syracuse University in 2021 with the goal of helping incoming students create meaningful and rewarding connections with faculty, staff and each other. The potential benefits to new students were clear, but faculty, staff and current students have discovered benefits as well.
FYS 101 is a semester-long, one-credit course taken by all first-year and incoming transfer students. The course helps students learn about themselves, the University and the local community through guided conversations, experiential activities and reflective assignments. The goal is to create a more welcoming, inclusive and diverse campus community.
Since the start of the program, more than 400 faculty, staff and students have participated in FYS 101, either as lead instructors (faculty, staff and graduate students) or peer leaders (undergraduate students). Lead instructors partner with peer leaders to lead discussions for a single section of FYS 101, which is capped at 19 students.
Kal Srinivas, director for retention and student success, and Sydney Rothstein, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, make up one such pair. They both say they are gratified by the opportunity to help new students share their stories and become comfortable with what can sometimes be uncomfortable conversations.
“Our goal is to create a place for our students to share their thoughts without fear of being incorrect, and they often teach me and each other about how to communicate about uncomfortable topics without fear and with the goal of learning,” Rothstein says. “We all learn something new because of the discussions we have.”
“Students have told me that we have empowered them to be okay with telling their stories in class and also will speak up if they see, observe or witness anything. Engaging across differences and leaning into the more difficult conversations has become more comfortable,” adds Srinivas.
Srinivas says the experience has helped her learn about herself. “Taking the time to understand how my own identity impacts my ability to engage the students in supportive dialogue has been rewarding. FYS 101 has helped me be introspective about the biases that I bring to each conversation.” And while unlearning biases has been a challenge, she says, FYS 101 “has given me the opportunity, platform, tools and voice to speak about issues that I had not been comfortable with before.”
Rothstein says the most rewarding part of the experience is seeing other students succeed. She also enjoys the working relationship she has cultivated with Srinivas. In her first year at Syracuse, Rothstein was herself a student in a FYS 101 section led by Srinivas.
“Kal and I work well together because we can bridge the student vs. teacher experience for our students and encourage them to go outside of their comfort zones. We compare our experiences in front of our class so that students can see examples of civil cross-cultural communication and can contribute to the conversation across their differences as well,” Rothstein says.
Srinivas says the collaboration between lead instructor and peer leader is key.
“As we try to take our ideas and change some of the rhetoric circulating around today in the world, we truly believe that with constant conversations in our classroom, we can make a difference in the young minds of our students and launch them into this world equipped with knowledge, self-confidence and the ability to accept the whole (beauty and ugliness) within us,” adds Srinivas.
Information sessions for students, faculty and staff members interested in being part of FYS 101 will be held Nov. 30, from 2 to 3 p.m. in 608 Bird Library; and Dec. 11, from 6 to 7 p.m. on Zoom (registration required).
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 315.443.9035.