FRO must build better relationships

As the Fall semester draws to a close and finals week approaches, new students have a lot over which to ponder. A vital component of the first-year Baruch student experience is Freshman Seminar, a pass or fail student seminar course for all new students the Baruch College community.

Freshman Seminar is meant to provide an informal, warm atmosphere for new students to ask “obvious” questions and foster relationships with peers, all while growing acquainted with the resources that Baruch offers. Although Freshman Seminar partially succeeds in this mission, there remains much to be improved.

The workload for the course manages to be meaningful and informative without seeming stressful or laborious. Three short blog posts were required throughout the semester to document our participation in enrichment activities in three different areas: academics, career planning and student life. The blog posts encouraged students to find ways to get involved on campus and explore opportunities to engage with the Baruch community.

The largest assignment was the preparation of a short monologue to be delivered, with varying degrees of theatrics, to the seminar class. Then, every student voted for his or her favorite performers. The winners in each class were asked to perform their monologues on stage at Baruch Voices, an annual showcase of monologues performed by freshmen.

Baruch Voices is a near-decade old tradition at Baruch that allows freshman students to freely express themselves in front of an audience of their peers. Instead of taking place in the Multipurpose Room like last year’s event did, this year’s Baruch Voices was given an upgrade: the Engelman Recital Hall, the cavernous concert hall located directly beneath the Newman Vertical Campus.

In class, a Freshman Seminar peer mentor works to instill important character traits and personal qualities, such as leadership and mindfulness, in his or her students through a series of discussions, lectures and interactive activities. Interestingly enough, the Freshman Seminar handbook we were handed contained at least one coloring book mandala and guided meditation session.

The most memorable activity in the course was a game that tested students’ time management skills. The classroom was divided into teams, each team had to complete as many tasks as possible off of a list in the several minutes allotted. Some individual tasks, such as having your team emulate the sounds of a rainforest a cappella, were designed to take several seconds. Other tasks, such as getting every person in the room to sign a single piece of paper, were designed to take several minutes, if not longer. The game was constructed so that the team that completes the most tasks in the allotted time, in other words, the team with the best time management skills, wins.

It is ironic, then, that time management is where I feel that Freshman Seminar mostly falls short. The 75-minute long meetings on a weekly basis sometimes made the seminar feel gruelingly long.

One lesson on discourse communities explored how language use should differ when communicating with a professor and with a friend. Discussing respectful language is undeniably important because, as Voltaire reminds us, “common sense is not so common.”

Many students, however, feel that 75 minutes devoted to discourse communities is an ineffective use of time. Diana Shishkina, a freshman, felt that such discussions were drawn-out and were made “unnecessarily long just to fill up time.”

Another freshman, Joseph Gofman, claimed that the lecture format of his Freshman Seminar section made information “difficult to retain.” Sitting through a presentation on the varying degree types that Baruch offers or Starr Career Development Services resources caused the information to go in through one ear and out through the other. A number of the services that were covered in the presentations, Gofman noted, are not pertinent to freshmen.

Shishkina’s most prevalent complaint was that there were not enough opportunities to “bond with, and get to know other people.”

The icebreaker activities with our Freshman Seminar sections during the student orientation in June introduced me to a number of the closest friends I made this semester. Indeed, everyone I met that day had been extremely friendly.

Nonetheless, the Baruch student archetype persists: commuters begin their journeys home immediately after finishing classes for the day. Getting to know fellow Bearcats can then prove to be a daunting task.

Though it attempts to encourage students to seek out engagement activities around Baruch, Freshman Seminar misses the opportunity to develop serious camaraderie among its students. “Getting-to-know-you” activities cease after the first week of the semester, beyond which weekly lessons take over the calendar.

In retrospect, it definitely did not feel as though Freshman Seminar was very helpful while it was in session, but it is impossible to deny that the class helped me acclimate to college. Despite its quirks, Freshman Seminar succeeds in acclimating its students to the complex ecosystem at Baruch.