Courtesy of Nicole Lopez del Carril.
In the coming fall semester, all incoming freshmen will take a new seminar designed to help with the transition to life at NYU Abu Dhabi.
The First Year Seminar will take place every one or two weeks, and will consist of facilitated discussions as well as hands-on activities. The freshman class will split into groups for the seminar, and each group will have a Student Life mentor and a student facilitator. Learning outcomes of the seminar are expected to range from understanding what it means to be a global citizen to maintaining long-distance relationships.
The seminar was co-chaired by former Dean of Student Life Julie Avina, Manager of First Year Programming Jennifer Gerdes and NYUAD senior Alexander Wang. The project began to take shape in the spring semester of 2013 and invited student input from its outset.Wang, after returning to Abu Dhabi from his study abroad semester in Shanghai, felt the underclassmen experiences of NYUAD were different from his own. He saw the project as a way to consolidate a common NYUAD culture.
“The First Year Seminar grew out of a hope that we might be able to recognize what's been both common and particular to the academic and social experience of the [then three] classes, and put those experiences in conversation with one another," Wang said.
The First Year Seminar will be introduced this semester and could become an NYUAD fixture for years to come. Wang hopes the program will preserve values held by current students while evolving with a changing student body.
"I think for me, it's a way of instilling the values that our students — at present — find central to their experience as global citizens," said Wang.
In order to weave together the different experiences of NYUAD students, the project co-chairs enlisted the help of five student interns. Student interns inquired into the Marhaba orientation experience by interviewing their classmates. Interns were asked to select interviewees from different classes and social groups in order to hear from a wide range of students. Sophomore Megan Vincent, who was an intern for the First Year Seminar project, interviewed twelve students about their Marhaba experience.
As a result of the interviews that she conducted, Vincent observed that many students came out of Marhaba with unanswered questions or an ambiguous understanding of certain NYUAD policies. Vincent explained that Marhaba is a busy program, which can be overwhelming to freshmen. Examples of issues that were not clarified in Marhaba include the American academic system and the unique social environment of Sama Tower, according to Vincent.
“A lot of students told me that they can't remember much of their Marhaba at all," Vincent said. “It's so hectic that information can go in one ear and out the other. The seminar gives students breathing room so that NYUAD can tell students about policies in a more effective way."
Finding these gaps in the Marhaba experience from the beginning of her work on the project, Vincent hopes that the First Year Seminar will clearly address issues that her peers had found ambiguous.
After talking to students about Marhaba and possible areas for improvement, the co-chairs and interns met to develop a syllabus for the seminar. Sophomore Clara Correia, another intern for the project, worked on the sessions about maintaining relationships.
Correia proposed drawing relationship maps as an example of a First Year Seminar activity. With no further instruction, freshmen would draw maps and then explain how they placed family and new friends on the maps. Issues such as conflict resolution could be addressed through prompted role plays, prompting discussions about how to navigate roommate tensions.
"I hope that [the seminar] will be fun for students, and that it gives students a chance to talk about their background and reflect on how it affects their experience," said Correia.
Successful programs such as Sama Circle, where students gathered informally to discuss social issues from different cultural perspectives, suggested to Correia that a similar forum would be popular among new students. Correia also described the seminars as a safe space and an opportunity for mentorship, as freshmen would be meeting with the same group over the course of a semester to share their experiences.
Correia also indicated that the seminar would give students the chance to join the dialogue about appropriate standards of behavior. In addressing the questions that need better attention, such as acclimatizing to the unique culture of NYU Abu Dhabi.
"It'll be discussion-based, which I think is more effective than somebody just saying 'this is wrong'," said Correia.