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Skidmore College

What is the First-Year Experience?

August 16, 2019
by Peter MacDonald

Ask Skidmore students what stands out for them about the First-Year Experience, and their responses will range from the comfort of finding new friends to the exciting opportunity to spend their first semester of college in London.

Ask faculty members the same question, and they, too, will have a variety of takes, from creative course design to support for incoming Skidmore students as they navigate college-level academics and adjust to campus life. 

This fall, associate sociology professor Amon Emeka takes over the reins of the FYE, which enters its 15th year.

“Mentoring is very important … I still recall my undergrad years when a professor took me aside and asked, ‘What do you think?’ He was truly curious. I felt like I had been treated seriously as a thinker. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me, one that I hope many students will experience in the FYE.”
Amon Emeka
Associate professor of sociology and director of the First-Year Experience

The centerpiece of the FYE is the Scribner Seminar — 50 small-group, interdisciplinary courses in which students work closely with a Skidmore faculty member, who also serves as their adviser. The courses are designed to help first-year students explore ideas, challenge assumptions, think critically and build a solid foundation for continued study at Skidmore.   

The FYE also includes the Peer Mentor program, linking first-year students to an experienced student who will assist them in their social and academic transition to college life.

And then there's the summer reading, which immerses all seminars in provocative debates about a shared text that has been carefully chosen to invite multiple perspectives and cross-disciplinary analysis.

There are multiple interrelated components to FYE, but ultimately each individual — new student, peer mentor or faculty member — benefits and offers a unique perspective.


On the experience

Jesse Epstein '19

FYE London 

“Some of my favorite moments took place walking home from class. The first time someone asked me for directions and I answered confidently felt absolutely amazing. I felt like a true Londoner. I felt a sense of pride and security that I hadn't ever felt until that moment.”

Students depart a college campus on a bus

Jesse Epstein ’19 is seen on the day he departed for FYE London. Epstein, a recent graduate, now works for Skidmore as a program assistant in London.

Haddia Bakkar '20

Peer mentor 

“As a peer mentor, I wanted to make sure all my students felt comfortable, and I tried to meet individually with them. I planned a dinner at a restaurant downtown and invited them to my apartment to watch movies. I also encouraged them to join as many clubs as possible. It’s important to find your place here, which I did through clubs.” 

FYE Peer Mentors

Sophomores, juniors and seniors serving as peer mentors offer a student-to-student perspective on adjusting to college life and academics.

On the Scribner Seminars

Ryan Messinger ’20

Seminar: Sports Analytics 

“My seminar was all about being with 15 other first-year students who were in the exact same boat as me. It was scary but comforting to have company. And the professor often started classes by asking how we were all doing — not on our readings, but in terms of adjusting to Skidmore.” 

Coco McNeil ’21

Seminar: Human Dilemmas 

“My seminar was an intro course to a liberal arts education, highly interdisciplinary. I remember thinking this interdisciplinarity thing is real. It was exciting. Now, I’m halfway through college and much of my work has been pulling from multiple subjects. It’s not surprising that I am a double major.” 

On welcoming first-year students

Jennifer Delton, PROFESSOR Of history 

Scribner Seminar: Liberalism 

“I want my students to have a more substantive and critical understanding of liberalism, progress and democracy, which are the big concepts we will be exploring in class; but I also hope they see how these ideas matter in the world and how fundamental they are to their own education, their future careers and lives and the civic health of this nation — or whatever nation in which they are citizens.”  

Casey Schofield, Associate Professor of psychology

Seminar: Human Dilemmas

“College was an amazing four years for me in so many ways, but during my first semester I was lonely, overwhelmed and homesick. I see my role in the FYE as one where I serve as a ballast to students navigating this challenging time themselves. I want them to know that when it comes to their academic life they have someone looking out for them, someone who is glad that they’re here and who is eager to help them find their spaces and places and communities that make Skidmore home for them.” 

Chris Vecsey, Assistant Professor of neuroscience

Seminar: Sleep from A to ZZZ

“Teaching this FYE seminar is exciting because it is an opportunity to be creative with course design, and it allows me to engage with the topic of sleep, which I typically examine neurobiologically, from a diverse set of other perspectives … I hope students come away from my course with the recognition that it is possible to ask many different questions about a single topic and to address those questions in many different ways.” 

On the summer reading   

This year’s book is “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World—and Why Things are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Ola Rosling. 

“Factfulness” begins with a basic problem: Why do individuals from all walks of life consistently guess incorrectly when asked about global trends? The answer — we revert to habits of thought that distort our perspectives.

Building on scholarship in psychology and public health examples, the book reveals how our views of the world are informed by unconscious, yet predictable biases. Ultimately, it argues that, despite what the media tell us, things are better than we think; it also makes an eloquent plea for future decisions based on data. 

Leigh Wilton, Assistant Professor of psychology

Summer reading selection committee member 

“Rosling writes about human cognitive behavior in the face of pressing international issues and shines a light on many cognitive biases that we engage in. Yet, he offers us hope for how we can move forward.” 

Kate Greenspan, Associate Professor of English

Summer reading selection committee member 

“‘Factfulness’ makes clear how we should resist general assertions as truths and shows us how to interrogate such statements by examining and evaluating the arguments advanced in their support.” 

Summer reading books over the years

Wes Anderson

The Class of 2017 was assigned to read the New York Times bestseller “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” by Wes Moore. Moore later visited campus to share his story and receive an honorary degree at the class's Commencement exercises.

On getting started at Skidmore

Altogether, the FYE ensures students receive a comprehensive welcome to college — intellectually, emotionally and socially.

Through integrated coursework and personal development opportunities with peers, it's an immersive experience in the transformative power of the liberal arts. 


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