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From Astro Boy to Zero-Based Budgets: An Inside Look at Dickinson’s First-Year Seminars

First Year Seminar

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Students share why Dickinson's First-Year Seminars help them hit the ground running

At the start of the semester, members of the class of 2023 were college newbies. One First-Year Seminar (FYS) later, they're pros. A defining element of students' first year at Dickinson, First-Year Seminars help students get ready for the rigorous college coursework ahead while bringing them together with other students with similar interests. 

This fall's offerings included:

Each of these seminars included special projects, class trips, and other elements that brought what the students were learning to life. Students in the Food Justice seminar ventured into the local community to study efforts to combat food insecurity. Stargazing students in the Search for Life seminar Skyped with a NASA scientist about the search for life on other planets and traveled to the National Air & Space Museum and the Udvar-Hazy Center to see replicas of the Mars Rover Curiosity and the Voyager spacecraft; they then shared what they learned during Dickinson Astronomy Club open houses. 

A class trip to Harlem was the highlight for Madison Parham-Murray ’23, a New York City native who learned more about the cultural history of her home city during a seminar on Harlem Renaissance artists. Jessie Zinderman ’23 appreciated the chance to learn how to create a personal budget, how to accrue interest and how to weather major life events and unexpected expenses, thanks to the Paying the Game of Life First-Year Seminar. "We heard different viewpoints on credit cards, student loans, retirement planning and real estate strategies," Zinderman says. "It was helpful, because now I feel I can make informed decisions that will work best for me."

Erik Smith ’23, a longtime sci-fi fan, signed up for Bender's seminar on robots with high hopes, and he was not disappointed. "The analyses and discussions we had in class centered on the ways robots may revolutionize society, how people might react and—my favorite part—how this reaction may differ across cultures and why," he says. “The biggest thing I learned might be how hard it is to predict the future of something revolutionary."

All three expect to use the study, writing and time-management tips they gained throughout their undergrad careers. “I also think my seminar prepared students for the years beyond Dickinson,” says Zinderman, “as we learned many financial skills to use when we have full-time jobs, when we start families and when we retire.”

For Smith, it was the chance to learn how to examine a complex subject from many different angles—anthropology, literature, economics, engineering, cultural studies—that impressed him most. “This reinforces the value of a liberal-arts education,” he says, “because it shows how many fields factor in to addressing contemporary issues.”

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Published December 18, 2019