Issue Date: Nov 9, 2001
By Mark Maben
The 13 first-year students in Scott Hall Room 219 are wrestling with a moral dilemma: Armed with a decoded message foretelling where Germany will bomb next, should Churchill evacuate the city of Coventry and risk tipping off the enemy that the British have cracked their code, or let the city be attacked?
The real-life scenario quickly has the students engaged in a heated discussion led by Rutgers College senior Shana Kushner. The small classroom setting, Kushner points out, is perfect for an afternoon lesson on critical thinking and decision making.
Small and intimate. These are not the first two words that usually come to mind when thinking about first-semester freshman courses. But for the 259 students in Rutgers College's First-Year Interest Group (FIG) program, that is exactly what they get.
Now entering its second year, FIG is designed to give Rutgers College students some of the benefits found at a small school, along with the experience that comes only from a large research university.
The concept is simple. FIGs bring together first-year students who share an interest for a one-credit, 10-week course. All courses are taught by high-achieving juniors or seniors. Students in FIGs explore a topic, meet faculty, staff and alumni working in that field, and discover what resources exist to nurture their interests. Equally important, a portion of each class is spent learning the ins and outs of the university. In addition, the students quickly gain a set of familiar, friendly faces, providing a ready-made peer group.
Instructors must attend two rigorous summer training sessions and then enroll in a three-credit course taught by Heath Boice-Pardee, assistant dean for new student programs. This fall, 18 FIGs are offered, up from five during last year's pilot phase. Topics range from premed and prelaw to education and global society. No class is larger than 22 students.
"FIGs enhance the undergraduate experience," said Marie Logue, associate dean for student development and college affairs. "The program helps develop a culture where freshmen are comfortable in the college environment, so they can be active learners." Just the act of asking these students how they are doing both academically and socially lets them blossom more quickly, Logue noted.
Student Bhumika Sompura agreed. "The FIG is so small you can talk with everyone, really debate," she said. "It has made it easier to talk with people in my other classes and to raise my hand. When I got here I was nervous, but now I have much less anxiety."
Logue hopes to keep expanding the program gradually so that about a third of all Rutgers College students participate in FIGs.
This article was published in the Nov 9, 2001 edition of the Rutgers Focus and is available online at http://urwebsrv.rutgers.edu/focus/article/link/848/