University College

University College

First Year Seminar Frequently Asked Questions

What is a First Year Seminar (FYS)?

The First Year Seminar is a three-hour, graded seminar with 25-30 students per section that is taught by UTA faculty with peer mentor inclusion. The seminar combines disciplinary content designed to appeal to incoming first year students with instruction on academic success and transition skills. Seminars will vary in topic depending on the faculty instructor, but will follow a standard set of learning objectives relating to the enhancement of competencies central to academic success at the University (active learning techniques, test taking and preparation, and campus resources and campus life, among others).

What is the process for proposing a new FYS?

At this time, given the review of the Core Curriculum, we are only accepting proposals for a new FYS course if the course will be embedded in the major field of study.  For example, FS-NURS 1300 is a requirement to graduate with an undergraduate nursing degree and is not dependent on the core curriculum or electives for the course to meet degree requirements.  Contact Dr. Amy Tigner, Assistant Professor of English and University College Faculty Fellow, at atigner@uta.edu if you have further questions.

What are the benefits of the FYS for students?

More than 80% of colleges and universities across the nation reporting having a First Year Seminar (FYS) in some form. Once a feature of just small liberal arts colleges, FYS courses are now prominent at major research institutions such as Stanford, UCLA, UT-Austin, Northwestern, Michigan and Wisconsin, to name a few. Studies have shown that student participants in First Year Seminars are more engaged, self-directed, skilled and persistent in their studies than students who do not take this kind of course.

What are the benefits of the FYS for faculty?

Faculty who teach in the First Year Seminar program are rewarded with the opportunity to teach exciting disciplinary content while developing meaningful mentoring relationships with first-year students. The First Year Seminar program also provides a supportive environment for faculty to have rewarding exchanges with each other about pedagogy and active learning. Since participation in this selective teaching program is vetted by the FYS Faculty Review Committee, selection to participate and/or continue in the program should be considered a teaching distinction.

What are the benefits of the FYS for academic units?

Supporting incoming first-year students benefits the entire University. More specifically, First Year Seminars are an opportunity for academic departments to recruit majors, build enrollments in non-FYS courses, and develop strong cohorts of students for future academic work in its program.

How many first year seminars will be offered each year?

The First Year Seminar at UTA is a budding, new program. The number of seminars offered each year will grow over time, as faculty and academic units become more familiar and engaged with the program. There are no quotas or disciplinary restrictions on who can participate in the program.

Do departments receive credit for offering these courses?

Yes. All departments offering a FYS will be required to have a three credit hour 1300 special topics course specifically designed for FYS. Our plan is to title these courses "First Year Seminar" and use the four-character disciplinary/departmental prefix with the letters "FS". For example: FS-MATH 1300: First Year Seminar, FS-MODL 1300 First Year Seminar, and FS-POLS 1300: First Year Seminar, etc. (Please note that if your department already uses the course number 1300 that the "FS" designation creates a different course. The course should be a special topics class specifically designated for FYS use and its description should read:  "Special topics in [discipline] in conjunction with college transition skills. Topics include: [here list of broad, potential topics in discipline], critical thinking and active learning skills, engagement with UTA community. Only offered as a First Year Seminar for incoming first-year students."

Does the the FYS privilege any academic discipline over another?

The First Year Seminar program at UTA is unaffiliated with any one academic discipline and seeks to promote the creation of seminars in all academic disciplines for all first-year students. Our program supports both ‘special topics’ FYS courses by individual faculty members and multisection FYS programs coordinated from within different academic units on campus.

What kind of faculty does the FYS seek?

The cornerstones of the First Year Seminar are quality teaching, advising and mentoring. The program seeks dedicated, creative and supportive faculty who are committed to promoting skills essential to the academic success of our students. Our program seeks to showcase our most talented and promising faculty members because we believe that they are the best ambassadors of what lies at the heart of our university: learning, dialogue and achievement. Tenure stream, tenured full-time and part-time instructors with long term records of excellence in teaching and/or student advising are eligible to apply to our program. We also welcome applications from University staff with appropriate degrees in a particular discipline, relevant teaching and/or advising experience and the support of a sponsoring academic department on campus. The University College is not just seeking to staff individual courses. We seek to build an interdisciplinary community of dedicated teachers who can dialogue with each other about our shared mission to support student learning and success at UTA.

What kinds of courses does the FYS program seek?

Our program seeks courses in all disciplines designed to appeal to and engage incoming first-year students. The First Year Seminar is a "topics" course, so we encourage interested faculty to propose an exciting subject that may serve as a point of entry to the richness of their broader academic discipline.  Moreover, since this course is 1000 level, the course should not presuppose any previous college level preparation in the topic.

How are the course proposals vetted?

The First Year Seminar Faculty Review Committee screens proposals for the FYS and provides feedback to applicants. The committee is composed of an interdisciplinary cohort of UTA faculty with a strong background in and commitment to best practices in teaching. The committee recommends strong proposals to Dr. Michael Moore, Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies for final approval.

What is the Course MOU and why is it in place?

MOU stands for Memorandum of Understanding. The Course MOU is an agreement between a faculty member who wishes to teach a First Year Seminar and the University College, which oversees the First Year Seminar Program. The agreement is also between the faculty member's department chair and the University College. (For departments and schools with multi-section FYS courses, and a FYS coordinator, please see the next question: What is the Multisection FYS MOU and why is it in place?) The purpose of the Individual Course MOU is to ensure that all participating faculty and departments are well informed of the program's requirements. In order for the program to function cohesively and benefit all students, it is important that certain basic preconditions be met. These include: how to offer a seminar, assigning No Limits: Foundations and Strategies for College Success as one of the required textbooks in each First Year Seminar, agreeing to work with a PAL (Peer Academic Leader, see below), utilizing pre-post surveys provided by the University College to measure the common goals and objectives of the course, and others. (Please see the MOU document for more information.) The spirit of the MOU is to ensure that all participating faculty work together with the University College to meet basic guidelines.

May faculty teach in the program for more than one academic year?

If an individual FYS course is successful, faculty who have participated in the program will be invited to participate again, pending approval from their department chair and the submission of a new MOU. Instructors and faculty who teach FYS as a part of a larger multisection program overseen by a coordinator, are overseen by that coordinator, who will renew or dismiss positions depending on performance, need and/or scheduling issues.

Does a FYS count toward a faculty member's normal teaching load?

Yes, the Individual First Year Seminar counts toward a faculty member's normal teaching load. This means that the decision to apply to participate in the First Year Seminar is predicated on interested faculty members consulting with their department chairs. In order to apply to the individual FYS program, faculty need to submit an MOU that includes their department chair's signature, agreeing to free the faculty member to teach a First Year Seminar as a part of their teaching load.

Who is a Peer Academic Leader (PAL) and what is his/her role in the seminar?

The Peer Academic Leader (PAL) is an undergraduate student who serves as an academic role model and mentor to students registered in a First Year Seminar. The PAL helps the professor of the seminar by teaching their first-year peers on a series of topics related to campus life, academic success strategies and campus connections. The PAL also provides support to the faculty member by providing extra office hours, helping to manage classroom discussion and other class activities. Each PAL is carefully vetted before entrance into the program and receives extensive training to perform his/her duties in the program. PALs are required to make a minimum of eight, 50-minute classroom presentations on college survival and transition skills, and no more than sixteen.

Is there a required FYS textbook?

Yes, there is, but the course is only partially based on it. Other textbooks may be assigned. The required textbook's title is No Limits: Foundations and Strategies for College Success. The textbook was edited by Dr. Dawn Remmers, former Executive Director of the University College, and written by UTA faculty and staff for our very own incoming first year students. It is illustrated with photographs of our campus, students, faculty and staff and expressly designed to teach students what they need to know to thrive at UT Arlington. Contact University College Programs at resources@uta.edu for a desk copy of the text. Again, No Limits is not the sole textbook for the seminar.

May individual faculty assign other textbooks in addition to the FYS textbook?

The required textbook, No Limits: Foundations and Strategies for College Success, is just one half of the content of the first year seminar. Faculty need to assign other course materials pertaining to the topic that they are teaching.

How do faculty learn how to teach college transition skills?

Some faculty members interested in our program may worry because they have never taught the subject of "college transition skills." which is a required part of our seminar content. No faculty should feel this way for three important reasons:

1) All faculty, by virtue of their credentials, career and academic and professional success, are well aware of the motivational, logistical and academic skills required to thrive as a student. In a manner of speaking, all faculty are "experts" right at the outset, although they may not have consciously thought about how to teach this subject before.

2) The First Year Seminar textbook, No Limits: Foundations and Strategies for College Success, is designed to take the pressure off of faculty members with regards to the teaching of college transition skills. Written expressly by UTA faculty and staff for our very own first-year students, No Limits facilitates the instruction of college survival skills for both faculty and PAL.

3) The PALs which will be working with individual faculty members in their seminars will have received extensive training in presenting college survival and transition skills to the first year students. Since PALs are required to make a minimum of eight, 50-minute classroom presentations on college survival and transition skills, a faculty member can benefit from the collaboration and input of their PALs. (PALs are permitted to make up to sixteen presentations on college transition skills in their assigned seminar, but faculty will only be required to utilize eight).

Together, faculty and PAL can create an exciting learning environment on the subject of college success in their First Year Seminar. Moreover, University College has developed a series of classroom activities to support the teaching of college transition skills.  Please see the FYS Resource Library part of our website for a list of these learning modules.

How much academic freedom do faculty have in teaching their FYS?

Faculty should not feel restricted. In the same manner that lower level courses in academic units have previously agreed upon goals and objectives to ensure that separate sections of the same course meet certain benchmarks so that students can succeed in upper level courses, our First Year Seminar has the same goals and objectives across all sections across the campus. We want students to get the benefits of a variety of teaching styles and disciplinary subject matter while ensuring that they succeed in acquiring some of the basic college transition skills that we have incorporated into the seminar goals and objectives. No two professors are required to teach in the same way, as long as they are taking measures to implement the course's common goals and objectives. One of the things that is most exciting about our program is how it prizes interdisciplinarity and faculty expertise by predicating our seminars on the "special topics" model, rather than a standardized course that only contains college survival and transition skill content.

Where should faculty go for more information?

In our resource library, faculty will find many resources relating to the First Year Seminar Program, such as sample proposals, syllabi and other reports.  In addition, as the year progresses, more resources for teaching the FYS will be posted and available online for faculty to reference and use. For further help, please contact Dr. Amy Tigner, Assistant Professor of English and Faculty Fellow of the University College at atigner@uta.edu.