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09/28/2011 07:00:00

Freshman Seminars Aim to Give Students Unique Experience

Classes are in full swing this week, marking the beginning of the school year for students at Caltech. For some lucky freshman, that means spending a bit of quality time with faculty members. Seven new freshman seminar courses were introduced to the curriculum this fall; in each, 12–15 students are paired with professors to discuss topics in-depth and outside of the lecture halls.

The goal of the seminars, which run over a full term and are credited like a typical class, is to give first-year students immediate exposure to faculty members, as well as an experience that is unique to Caltech. With names like "The Science of Music," and "Time, Love, and Memory," the courses are meant to stimulate curiosity and provide an exciting forum for the exchange of information among students and faculty alike.

"The key in this program is the understanding that teaching is an emotional process and learning is an emotional process," says Jehoshua (Shuki) Bruck, Moore Professor of Computation and Neural Systems and Electrical Engineering and the facilitator of a freshman seminar entitled "The Origin of Ideas." Small groups of students closely collaborating with professors, he says, "can provide a learning experience that is driven by natural passion and curiosity. In my class, we will attempt to understand the historical origins and the evolutionary processes that led to concepts and artifacts that are part of our life. We will learn how to enjoy ignorance, be curious, and realize the fun in discovery and the joy of human interaction."

According to Melany Hunt, Vice Provost and professor of mechanical engineering, the seminars are a pilot program and one result of extensive, multi-year faculty discussions about the core curriculum. Dedicated to energizing the learning experience at Caltech, the Core Curriculum Task Force recommended the development of freshman seminars at the end of 2010.

The Faculty Board approved nine freshman seminars for this academic year. Seven of the experimental courses were offered this term. One seminar will be offered during the winter term, and one in the spring. For a full list of seminar topics, visit the Office of the Registrar's website.

Written by Katie Neith