One student, big city: First-semester program to engage students with college, Chicago

By Managing Editor

Getting acquainted with other students, as well as the college and the city, are all key components to the First-Semester Experience, and this fall, Columbia is launching a brand new first-semester freshman program designed to ease this process.

The program consists of 14 different Big Chicago courses—weekly 2-hour lectures with smaller, biweekly breakout sessions every other Friday—and the New Student Commons course, which features smaller group sessions unrelated to the Big Chicago material held on alternating Fridays, according to Suzanne Blum Malley, interim dean of the School of Fine & Performing Arts.

Each Big Chicago course will have its own curriculum designed to engage students with the City of Chicago through various media and topics separate from that of the New Student Commons, which contains universal learning outcomes aiming to connect students with resources and activities throughout the college and the city, Blum Malley said.

“We have learning outcomes for the course, and every course is different, so what you learn in [one course] will be different from [another],” Blum Malley said. “[The New Student Commons] is associated with the course, but it’s not connected to the course material. It gives students access to all of the student support facilities, introducing them to what’s available on campus.”

Big Chicago courses will take on a lecture-hall style for weekly meetings consisting of 50–180 students depending on the course—a step away from Columbia’s average class size of 16.67 students, reported by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness in the Fall 2014 Semester. Each of the courses will be taught by a college faculty member along with graduate student teaching assistants. On alternating Fridays, students from each class will meet in groups of about 20 to perform team-based work related to the course material, according to Blum Malley.

“It’s the sort of class that doesn’t hurt from being a big lecture because there is this second part,” said Jim DeRogatis, a lecturer in the English Department who is set to teach “Music & Media in Chicago.” 

“Mondays will consist of a two-hour long big lecture, and Fridays will offer smaller breakout groups,” DeRogatis said.

New Student Commons groups, which will meet on Fridays that are not designated to the “Big Chicago” breakout sessions, will be led by peer leaders—student orientation leaders, peer mentors and resident assistants—who are trained to help new students get acquainted with the college and the city. This could include activities ranging from tours of campus facilities to a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago.

“It’s really powerful that every student will be working with a student mentor throughout the course of the semester because getting the lay of the land from another student is sometimes more helpful than getting the lay of the land from [faculty or administrators] like me,” Blum Malley said.