The real purpose of FYS

As one of the 900-plus first-year and transfer students who participated in First Year Seminar (FYS) this semester, I’ve heard my share of grumbling and complaining. I was told I had to take FYS and “get it over with.” I heard classmates bemoan the “busy work.” I felt the collective sigh as we watched yet another “C-Talks” video. By the time I finished FYS two weeks ago, I felt a mistrust of the college administrators growing in me.

So I decided to discover the real purpose of FYS. I sat down with Rick De Vries, a professor of both economics and education, as well as the coordinator of the First Year Seminar program.

To help me get an accurate picture of FYS, he gave me a history lesson. Before FYS, Calvin offered a course called Prelude, which delved into Reformed theology. Because of the overlap between Prelude and DCM, the First Year Experience Committee created FYS to shift the focus to equipping incoming students for how to deal with college. This is the fourth year Calvin has offered FYS, and the third year De Vries has overseen it.

Calvin administrators recognize that the first year of college is tough for many students, and they hope to increase retention by caring for us well. This involves casting a vision of the vocation of the resilient student and exposing incoming students to support resources such as Broene Counseling Center, the Rhetoric Center and the Career Center. De Vries also explained that the Quest group and FYS instructor are some of the first relationships a new student builds at Calvin.

De Vries has received the most complaints about the week on study skills. Many students were able to skate through high school with little effort, but they need to be reminded they’re not in high school anymore. “I’ll admit, textbooks are brutal to read,” he said. He went on to explain that as a professor, it’s painful to see students fail. The real goal of FYS is to remind students that failure is not the end of the world and that help is available.

Although the murmur of cynicism is heard, there is also a quiet voice proclaiming how FYS is benefitting students.

Throughout the conversation, De Vries frequently reminded me the college leadership is constantly evaluating and changing FYS. One change this year is the introduction of some full-semester FYS classes connected to an academic class. Another addition is the focus on the protocol of the professor-student relationship. The hope is to humanize professors, one of the most critical resources Calvin offers. There are many people thinking about FYS in this ongoing discussion; every year there are small changes to improve the experience.

Hopefully none of us are going to re-take FYS, but we need to remember we can trust the people in charge of Calvin. They’re not mysterious shadowy figures who pull levers and laugh at us. Instead, they care for our well-being and are constantly reevaluating how best to help us have a smooth landing and thrive at Calvin.