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A Taste of Skidmore’s First-Year Program
Professor Beck Krefting’s first-year seminar “American Taste” is an interdisciplinary analysis of the evolution of American cuisine and food politics, which ultimately explores the impact of science, business, technology, globalization, and changing family patterns on U.S. food in the 20th and 21st centuries.
But it’s much more than just classroom chatter. A month into the semester, Krefting’s 15 students were tasked with preparing a delicious international-themed dinner.
On the menu:
- Poutine, a Canadian dish of handcut French fries with cheese and gravy on top
- Tamales, Latino appetizers cooked in corn husks, which can be traced back to Aztec, Inca, and Maya cuisine
- Panzanella, a traditional Tuscan salad of bread, tomatoes, and onions, dressed with olive oil and vinegar
- Naan, a puffy flatbread from Northern India, usually made in a tandoor oven that can reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit
- Vegetarian and shrimp versions of Thailand’s stir-fried noodle dish, Pad Thai
- Baklava, a Middle Eastern pastry made of filo dough layered with chopped nuts and honey
Krefting's FYE Seminar enjoys a sit-down meal with
President Glotzbach and his wife, Marie.
To help them prepare the meal, Skidmore President Phil Glotzbach and wife Marie allowed the students to commandeer their personal kitchen at Scribner House (the president’s residence, named for College founder Lucy Skidmore Scribner). Later, Krefting and students enjoyed a sit-down meal with the Glotzbachs in their dining room.
Krefting says, “The food was amazing, the house is still intact, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us all.” One student adds, “It was a unique and awesome experience to be able to say that I cooked dinner for the college president my first year, and that the class bonded over the ethnic flavors!” (More on the dinner, and the class service-learning projects, in this blog.)
No year in your college career is more challenging or more important than your first. National studies indicate that new students who connect with faculty and peers and who identify an intellectual interest or passion are much more likely to succeed and find fulfillment.
That’s a major reason Skidmore developed its First-Year Experience program in 2005. FYE features:
- 45 seminars (no more than 16 students each) from which to choose, including one “across the pond” in London, England
- Committed faculty and peer mentors
- Planned mentoring and cocurricular activities
- Living in close proximity to seminar-mates in residence halls
It’s all meant to ensure that first-year students hit the ground running from day one, connected and involved. And with an impressive retention rate of 94% (first-year students returning for sophomore year), it appears that FYE is getting the job done.
“FYE is much more than just an office,” says Kate Cavanaugh ’14, who served as a peer mentor two years ago. “It’s an entire network of students, professors, and staff members who are ready to help you transition into the Skidmore community, with your key allies being your seminar professor and your peer mentor. In my seminar, we went from not knowing each other’s names at Orientation to sharing dinner at our professor’s house at the end of the semester.”
Californian Zubin Mobedshahi ’11 agrees, “When I first arrived at Skidmore, I didn’t know anybody, but there were so many older students who were happy to help me. I was showered with kindness. I became a peer mentor in part because I wanted to return the favor and help new students find Skidmore as much of a home as I have. It’s definitely a labor of love. It’s a primary support structure for all of us.”
And of course, the Scribner Seminars are academically foundational, setting the stage for the rest of college, encouraging students to think about the liberal arts as a whole, challenging preconceived notions of inquiry and knowledge, and examining issues from multiple perspectives.
“I loved my Scribner Seminar, ‘Buzz: The Visual and Material Culture of Caffeine,‘ because it allowed me to teach something that I'm passionate about (the history of coffee, tea, and chocolate) but that doesn't fit into a traditional discipline,” says professor Mimi Hellman. “My students and I explored it through multiple lenses—art history, sociology, literature, and business. My excitement fueled the class and we all learned together. This is what college should be about—thinking critically and creatively, making new connections, sharing ideas, seeing the world in a different way.”
For a taste of the FYE, especially its Scribner Seminars, see the following stories:
- Sailing the seas in a first-year seminar
- Running across disciplines: Inside one first-year seminar
- Creative Minds: One first-year seminar
- Faculty rely on top students to mentor their peers
For more on FYE: