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Harpur Seminars

Harpur seminars: A leg up

Seminars combine intriguing intellectual issues with consideration of transition strategies

Every year approximately 2,200 freshmen arrive on campus with new freedoms and great expectations. They're starting to explore their interests and passions, trying to decide the right major, and beginning to think about what to do with the rest of their lives. But they lack a full understanding of what college work entails, what their professors do, and where a liberal arts major may take them.

To give them the tools for a successful transition while engaging them in spirited discussion and exploration of issues central to faculty members' research, Harpur College collaborates with the Division of Student Affairs to offer seminars (open only to freshmen) that combine intriguing intellectual issues with consideration of transition strategies.

The seminars debuted in 2010, when Harpur College offered eight of them. Because they were so successful, this fall Harpur is offering 13.

Each two-credit seminar, restricted to 20 students, meets two hours a week. During one hour, the class explores issues critical to a faculty member's research. For instance, Harpur College Dean Donald Nieman, a historian specializing in law, race relations, and civil rights, examines Abraham Lincoln's role in emancipation.

During the second hour, a Student Affairs professional takes what students learned in the first hour and applies it to the seven areas recognized as being most challenging for freshmen — time management, study skills, career exploration, leadership skills, campus resources, major selection and how to use the library for research.

Sabrena Myers took the class to learn more about one issue — slavery. She was excited to hear different perspectives and likes to debate but soon learned she needed to hone her skills since she didn't cite sources, a college necessity. The class provided her with information on options for improving her writing skills and, in addition how to take advantage of campus health services.

"It's good to have that transition," she says. "Everybody in the class is a freshman, so everybody has the same questions and the same concerns. It helps you transition and makes you feel more prepared."

Like Myers, Jerry Pomeranz took the class to examine one subject in depth, an opportunity high school didn't offer. But the class also taught him how to strengthen his study habits with exercises like recording for a week how he spent his time — number of minutes spent watching TV, socializing, studying, etc.

"I wanted to show that I was a hardcore student," Pomeranz says. "I wanted to produce that image of myself. I spent a lot more time studying that week than I had previously, but it caught me into a cycle that I've been in ever since."

English professor Elizabeth Tucker, who taught a course exploring ghost stories in American culture, said she jumped at the chance to teach a seminar. "It's very important to bring together living and learning on our campus," says Tucker, who is a former faculty master. "Residential life is such an important part of the students' experience. With the faculty masters and student affairs staff there are many efforts to make connections, but this is a new way to do it by combining academics and transitioning into the college setting."

For Dean Nieman, this intertwining of living and learning, academics and practical information, students and faculty is what the university is all about.

"The thing that's very special about Harpur is that we bring together very bright, highly motivated students with outstanding faculty," he says. "These seminars afford freshman the opportunity to interact with and learn from our senior research-active faculty. research-active faculty teaching them."

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Last Updated: 12/15/12