Westmont Magazine First-Year Seminars Help Students Shape and Share Their Story
For the first time ever this fall, incoming students began their Westmont experience sitting at home and taking classes remotely. After a virtual orientation, they connected with their professors and classmates through Zoom and Canvas—a most unusual beginning for a residential college known for its warm and welcoming community.
Recognizing the challenge of building relationships through a computer screen, the college structured First-Year Seminars to help new students get to know their professors and peers. The theme, Living Our Stories at Westmont, reflected the goals of building confidence, helping students develop their own voice, and honing their thinking and writing skills. Exploring ideas through a small community allowed students to learn from each other rather than relying on a professor to do all the teaching.
“We hope students found this intellectual community enjoyable and invigorating—and that it helped prepare them for the rest of their college education,” says Irene Neller, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communication, who taught one of the seminars.
“We asked, ‘What is your current story and how might Westmont add to your story?’” she says. “Together, we discussed stories written by people of other places, cultures and times and considered how to compose lives rooted in justice and mercy. How do we conform our story to the story God has in store for us?”
All new students participated in the first four weeks of the seminar remotely. They then had the option of taking an additional three weeks after moving to campus in late September. Some groups, such as Neller’s students, met in person. By engaging with each other and submitting three essays, these students earned a unit of academic credit. A total of 34 faculty and staff members taught the seminars, including professors from departments such as biology, art, history, mathematics, psychology, and religious studies.
“Students got their first experience with interdisciplinary thinking in these seminars,” Neller says. “They began to articulate their objectives for their college education and started connecting with fellow students to discover what it means to learn in a diverse community. It was a highly personal experience for them and for me.”
Read what Vice President Neller's students thought about their first-year seminar.
College is super-fast-paced, and if you don’t intentionally take time to stop and meditate on the big questions that matter, you won’t ever do that. First-year seminar was one of my favorite hours of the week because I was able to stop and process the big questions that matter. I believe that I am all the more prepared to tackle college because of this class.
My first-year seminar was a re-centering experience. I always try to make a conscious effort to understand my goals and identify opportunities to achieve those goals. After some time in my classes at Westmont, I’ve noticed I’ve lost sight of those goals. My time in my first-year seminar has helped me to regain my sight for the goals I’ve created for myself in the midst of new-found responsibilities.
The first-year seminar class will hold a special place in my heart. Mrs. Neller and the rest of my classmates are all so filled with such wonderful passions and such a deep connected love with Christ. These short, but sweet seven weeks have allowed me to expand my knowledge of life and to really understand all of God’s beautiful plans for me.
The first-year seminar class has enabled me to connect with people outside my friend group. Also, I’ve been able to learn more about myself and what shaped me by the essays. It’s helped me to be more open and comfortable with who I am.
The transition into college for the freshman class has not been typical. Classes have been reliant on Wi-Fi, and meeting people has been difficult. My first-year seminar class has allowed me to meet people outside of my classes and connect with them on a more personal level. By writing and listening to others, it has blessed me in knowing that I am not alone in anything.
Los Angeles, California
First-year seminar has not only made me learn more about myself in my story but also reflect how community and faith motivate and inspire us all.
Alisa Viejo, California
I would say it was flexible, as it offered both online and in-person experience to help all the students in the class get the most out of the classes.