What to do with seminar?

Many undergraduates who attended UMD their freshman year are familiar with the first-year seminar course. A staple of the freshman academic experience for many, UMD Seminar serves an important role. This course, though, can expect to see some changes within the next year. UMD has been dealing with campus issues about the seminar course. Though it is required for freshmen in four of the five schools at UMD (excluding the Swenson College of Science and Engineering), many people question the relevance of the class.

“The concerns, in general, come from misunderstandings based on people not really knowing a lot about the course,” Sam DeVilbiss said, coordinator for UMD Seminar and New Student Initiatives from the Office of Students in Transition.

So, the question remains: what really is UMD Seminar?

“UMD Seminar is designed to assist students in transitions, to get them to feel connected and to help them be successful in college,” DeVilbiss said.

UMD Seminar, an introductory course, also serves students on an intellectual level.

“The seminar course also works to help students develop communication skills, use critical thinking skills, and promote self-awareness in students,” DeVilbiss added.

The UMD Seminar course is primarily run by the SIT office but includes campus-wide involvement. Faculty, staff and even fellow students from departments all over campus are involved with instructing and organizing the course.

Lately, faculty and staff have raised concerns about the cohesiveness or consistency of the program. Each class varies depending on the teaching style of the instructor. Steve Matthews — history professor, faculty chair member and past seminar instructor — mentioned that there are concerns with what each professor is and is not qualified to talk about. There are certain topics each seminar instructor is required to cover, such as alcohol or disability resources, yet not every instructor is specifically trained for each specific topic. There is debate on how to best work through the concern.

Matthews said that people behind the program are working to make this course the best it can be while not adding too much to a student’s workload. There is talk of tailoring the first-year course to the majors of the students.

“If students know that this first-year course correlates to what they came here for, they will appreciate the program more,” Matthews said.

There is also talk about creating a separate level of seminar course for undecided students. Currently, SIT is collaborating with an advisor and working to create an effective program for both type of student.

Junior Alicia Hayes reflected on her time in UMD Seminar, which she took two years ago.

“Seminar offered a lot of strategies that helped those that weren’t sure what they wanted to major in,” Hayes said.

As of right now, SIT and other faculty and staff cannot exactly say what kinds of changes people can expect; they don’t want to foreclose on ideas too quickly because everything is still in the works. Though nothing is set in writing, UMD can expect some significant changes to the program. Next year, new freshmen will experience a seminar course different from previous years.

“SIT is doing a lot of research, looking into best practices,” DeVilbiss said. “We are planning to do a needs-assessment soon. We want something that everyone on this campus can be proud of.”


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