The Collegian
Saturday, June 25, 2022

UR Curious: Why are students required to take two first-year seminars?

At The Collegian, we want to write stories that matter to you. We asked readers to send in their questions and burning curiosities about the University of Richmond. No topic was too big or too small. We picked five of them, and our reporters have found the answers for you. One question and answer will be published each day this week. Read the other stories in the series here. And keep being curious. 

First-year seminars offered next spring semester range in topics from “Films of the 1960s," to “Why Does Anything Exist?” to “Black Vernacular."

But many first-years have begun to wonder why it is necessary to take two first-year seminars at all. Isn’t one enough? 

Before the FYS, first-years enrolled in a program known as CORE, said Erik Craft, associate economics and PPEL professor and former FYS committee member. CORE was a writing-intensive two-semester course series that required all first-years to read the same books. These books ranged in subjects from political science to philosophy and were by authors such as Freud and Darwin. 

The idea behind this program was that every single University of Richmond student would take the same class. 

In its later years, around 2008, CORE began having staffing difficulties. An ad-hoc committee was formed to look at what other first-year academic options might entail, said Dan Palazzolo, associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and former FYS committee member.

Palazzolo said the committee came up with three options: 

  1. Keep the two-semester CORE program as it currently was.
  2. Require freshmen to complete one semester of CORE in the fall and then transfer to one first-year seminar in the spring (referred to as CORE + 1).
  3. Begin a new system of first-year courses that would allow students to self-select topics they were interested in and take two writing-intensive seminars focused around those topics.  

The committee presented these options to the entire faculty and put the decision up to a vote. The decision that prevailed was choice three, the current model of two first-year seminars. The hope, Palazzolo said, was that with the new program, students would self-select into courses they were interested in and would be able to meet students with similar interests, creating friendships based on those similar interests. 

But why two semesters? 

Many faculty members said they did not believe all the goals of the FYS program could be achieved in a single semester. 

The goals of the FYS program are “to enhance knowledge of self and the world, written communication, oral communication, critical thinking skills, informational literacy, and to provide a mentoring opportunity with faculty,” Mary Tate, first year seminars director, said. 

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With those goals in mind, Craft said: “I think there was a belief that [two semesters] was necessary in order for students to practice their writing skills sufficiently within the first year ... Most faculty believed one semester would not be enough time for students to develop their writing ability.”

Allowing first-years to take only one first-year seminar instead of two was “never discussed,” said Al Goethals, a leadership studies professor and a former FYS committee member. He also said he believed the development of good writing took two semesters. 

Student input in the forms of surveys and consultations were considered in the switch from CORE to FYS, Craft said.

Students today are divided on their opinions of first-year seminars. Although all seem to appreciate that they have a choice in the class they take, some view the second FYS as a way to explore new topics, and others see it as a nuisance.

“I like that there’s two," first-year Nikhil Mehta said. "It connects you with two professors that you might not otherwise have been connected with, and I think it helps you branch out a little bit, especially your first year of college if you aren’t 100% sure what your major is or if you just want to explore something for fun, it gives you the chance to do that without feeling like you’re taking a class away from a major. Kind of like a disguised elective."

First-year Jess Chiotelis disagrees. With all the general education requirements and prerequisites she has to take, Chiotelis said she was finding it hard to make space for an FYS. 

“I’m only left with one class slot," Chiotelis said. "[Taking a second FYS] is making decisions much more difficult." She said she didn’t see her FYS as helping her explore new majors or "branch out," as Mehta does.

There is no current plan to change the FYS program, Craft said. 

Contact features writer Ally Osterberg at

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