student question

First-Year Seminar

All students at Saint Michael's College enroll in a First-Year Seminar during their first or second semester. These writing-intensive seminars explore broad questions in the liberal arts and are restricted in enrollment to encourage discussion and active learning.

The small class size allows instructors to get to know students well and to work closely with their writing. It also encourages students to work cooperatively, creating a small, engaged community of learners who actively take responsibility for their own education.

Topics vary from year to year, but all courses in the program aim to encourage students to closely analyze primary texts, write extensively, study topics from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives, and reflect on cultural diversity.

Topics for Fall 2017
FS 111  The Examined Life
FS 113  Tries: Creative Writing
FS 115  The American Environmental Imagination
FS 116  Snow: Art and Science
FS 122  Music and the Human Experience
FS 140  Place and Placelessness
FS 150  Black Voices of Democracy
FS 153  Peace and Justice
FS 156  Memoirs of Race, Gender, and Sexuality
FS 161  Technology and Ethics in Society
FS 162  Science that Changed History
FS 182  The Social Construction of Humanness
Topics for Spring 2018
FS 111 The Examined Life
FS 115  The American Environmental Imagination
FS 117  Joan of Arc
FS 126  Sports Stories
FS 153  Peace and Justice
FS 158  Society, Identity, & Race
FS 184  Robotics, Technology, and Self
FS 195  Africa and Its Peoples

For a complete list of First-Year Seminar classes and course descriptions, see the college catalog.

The Common Text

Each year, Saint Michael's College chooses a common text to be read and discussed by the incoming class of new students. All first-year students are asked to read the book over the summer prior to arriving on campus. A panel discussion of the book is held during Orientation in late August, and each First-Year Seminar discusses the book at the start of the fall and spring semesters.

The First-Year Seminar Common Text for 2017-2018 is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates (2015). Coates's essay and memoir is an eloquent, forceful text that will provide students and faculty with much to reflect upon and discuss. The book confronts head on long-standing issues of race in America that have been highly visible and deeply fraught over the last year in national politics, in the media, and in the lives of many across the county. By reading and discussing Coates's work, students and faculty will also be directly engaged in the FYS program's efforts to promote reflection on diversity.

Reading this book will be your first step into the conversation that is a liberal arts education. To help you enter that conversation, your first-year seminar instructor will ask you to write a response to the book; you should watch your SMC email and home postal mail in early August for your summer writing assignment, due the first week of classes. (Students in spring seminars will get their letters over the winter break, but should still read the book over the summer.)

Additionally, essays by three faculty responding to the book will be posted on the SMC portal by the end of July. You will receive an email informing you when they are available. During Fall Orientation you’ll participate in a panel discussion with these faculty, so your instructor will likely ask you to also read their essays and perhaps incorporate responses to them into your own essay.

Please buy the book as soon as possible, either at your local bookstore or online. Some copies will be available all summer at the campus bookstore, so if you’re on campus, you can also buy it there. But don’t delay; read the book soon so that you can jump into the conversation that is at the core of a liberal arts education.

For more information, contact:
Peter Vantine
Director, First-Year Seminar Program
Associate Professor of Modern Languages
Klein 114 
Box 227

Past First-Year Seminar Common Text Selections

2016-2017       Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

2015-2016       Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

2014-2015       James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

2013-2014       The Book of Job

2012-2011       Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

2011-2010       Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

2010-2011       Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe

2009-2010       Kafka, The Metamorphosis

2008-2009       Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower

2007-2008       Isak Dinesen, “Babette’s Feast”

2006-2007       Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

2004-2006       Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

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