The First University Seminar
New student seminars have been part of the academic curriculum at American colleges and universities for more than 100 years. The first freshman seminar was offered in 1888 at Boston University, but the popularity of first-year seminars has fluctuated since that time. After almost disappearing in the 1960s, the first-year seminar has enjoyed a gradual and steady rebirth since the mid-1970s. It is now recognized as an effective way to address many of the issues and problems of contemporary college life.
The precise content and goals for these seminars differ among institutions. Some are academic seminars, which focus on a faculty member's special area of scholarly interest or an interdisciplinary theme. Others are offered within academic departments or professional schools in order to introduce students to the expectations of an academic major or career. However, the majority of institutions (about 61.7 percent) offer extended orientation seminars designed to provide students with essential strategies and information to enhance the likelihood of their persistence and academic/social success.
All new student seminars give students the opportunity to interact with and gain support from other students and the seminar instructor. This supportive environment helps create a strong sense of community within the larger campus. Many of these seminars have been broadened in focus to include other categories of first-year students, especially transfer students, who also are students in transition. Hence, many former "freshman" seminars have been reconstituted as "new student" or "first-year" seminars.
The University 101 Program
The University 101 course at the University of South Carolina was introduced in 1972 as an educational experiment in response to 1970 student riots against the Vietnam War, other perceived social injustices and local campus issues. The primary goal of the course was to build trust, understanding and open lines of communication between students, faculty and staff members, and administrators.
Other key aims were:
- to encourage students to develop more positive attitudes and behaviors toward the university
- to increase student retention to the sophomore year and subsequently through the senior year to graduation
- to assist student efforts to understand the multiple, essential purposes of higher education
- to facilitate a major faculty development initiative, which would improve teaching in all undergraduate courses, not just the first-year seminar.
The rationale of Thomas Jones, then president of the university, in founding University 101 was that the instructor training program would provide University 101 instructors and other University of South Carolina faculty/staff members with their first in-depth training in how to be effective college educators.
Since its inception, both the course and the faculty training have evolved to meet the needs of students in changing times. Multiple yearly teaching workshops are offered for University of South Carolina faculty and staff members, peer leaders, graduate leaders and visitors from other national and international colleges and universities.