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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 2016
FS 102  The Afterlife
FS 111  The Examined Life
FS 113  Tries: Creative Writing
FS 114  A River Runs Through It
FS 124  Human Rights in China
FS 140  Place and Placelessness
FS 153  Peace and Justice
FS 154  Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Media
FS 156  Memoirs of Race, Gender, and Sexuality
FS 184  Robotics, Technology, and the Evolving Self
Topics for Spring 2017
FS 111 The Examined Life
FS 116  Snow: The Art and Science of Alpine Crystals
FS 122  Music and the Human Experience
FS 123  On Memory
FS 158  Society, Identity, & Race
FS 162  Science and Technology that Changed History and You
FS 182  The Social Construction of Humanness: From Cells to Society

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

The Common Text

The SMC Common Text is required summer reading for all first-year students, is discussed in all First-Year Seminars, and is intended to spark conversation and study among the SMC community from Fall Orientation throughout the academic year.First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

The 2016-17 Common Text is the memoir First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (2000) by author, activist, and Saint Michael's alumna Loung Ung. (’93). This stirring personal story is told from Loung’s perspective as a young child while her family is forced to flee their home, hide their identities, endure tremendous hardship, and disperse to survive under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Ung’s memoir is an exciting choice, both because she is a member of the St. Michael’s family and because her book is currently being adapted by Angelina Jolie Pitt as a film for Netflix, to be released in late 2016. Read a synopsis or purchase the book.

As you read the book, we invite you to engage deeply with the details of the text and the specific historical context, while also considering how the story reflects the recurring phenomenon of displacements caused by war and oppressive political regimes, such as we currently see in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis—among others. The book may perhaps make you think of a particular refugee population in your own community.

Reading this book is 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. Finally, at the start of the fall semester on Monday, August 29, author Loung Ung will speak to first-year students by video conference about her writing and work, as well as answer questions. So you’ll have a chance to discuss this book not only with your peers and professors, but also with the author herself.

Please buy the book as soon as possible, either at your local bookstore or online. The ISBN-10 for the paperback is 0-06-085626-2. 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


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