By Jimmy Recinos

Photo by Gregory Urquiaga of Andy Jones’s Freshman Seminar on Exploring Davis

“Was there some sort of mistake?”

“Did they get my SIR?”

“What if they forgot about me?!”

“WHY ME?!”

For a moment, I can recall my own eagerness during the summer before my new school year as an incoming junior to UC Davis. I was a rabid and nerve-wracked mess! In waiting to hear from the school about what was next, I could only talk to myself as I stared and blinked at my new but still relatively quiet UC Davis email account.

Of course, everything was just fine, and I made it through a tough summer to register for classes the same way everyone does. You’ll do it too.

Of all things, you’re probably most eager to figure out what kinds of classes you’re going to take. You may even wonder, “What kind of classes are available to incoming freshmen and transfer students?”

Well….

It really depends on your major, but there are still some general customs that apply. In my own experience, there’s one kind of class structure that I would recommend to anyone from any major! It’s called the seminar. By its official definition from UC Davis’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, the seminar course is described as “[a]n exciting program of innovative seminars that reflect instructor’s intellectual interests. These once-in-a-lifetime courses promote intellectual exchange, critical thinking and community.” By my own definition, I’d posit that it’s the best kind of class you can take at the UC, EVER!

Now, to be sure, there are two kinds of seminars: The freshman seminar, and the upper-division seminar. The first, as you might imagine, is set at a pace with respect to the inevitable culture shock that our awesome institution will create for INCOMING students. The latter, on the other hand, is for students who are ready to take their grasp of the discipline to the next level. As an INCOMING junior, I took the upper division seminar, and almost immediately, I FELL IN LOVE.

HERE’S WHY:

1. ENGAGEMENT: Let’s be honest here, with general courses open to everyone, it’s only natural for some of us to feel disconnected from our professors when we’re just one in a crowd of a gazillion other students. This is where the seminar differs, in that they place both students and their professor face to face, and mano y mano.

For my own upper-division seminar, I took a course called Intersectionality in Shakespeare, and at the most, there were only 10 other students in class aside from me. This made for highly stimulating discussions, a fair turn for each student to share their thoughts, and the notion that during the course, we weren’t just going to class to take something away, but we were also there to build something.

A case in point: During this class, we created a “commonplace book,” in which we collected and organized different quotes from our assigned readings to make a cool reference guide for different themes such as humor, irony, power and more! This got everyone to participate, and it was great to know that my classmates and I were quite literally developing something by coming to class, something of our own doing, and which we all shared in.

2. RECIPROCITY: Throughout all my time in college, I can’t count how many instances I felt like there were never enough moments of digression, where rather than a professor going on with the general theme of the day’s lesson, it’d be more fun to hear their thoughts on this other thing. By contrast, with seminars, while there’s still a general set of ideas to think about during discussion, there’s far more room to let exchanges between a class flow, like in a real conversation! This is because most of the time, rather than ignoring one another’s comments, students speak to one another and reciprocate the courtesy of attentiveness and engagement.

3. COMMUNITY: Considering the above, just think again about the results of meeting with a small group of people for 10 straight weeks to simply have a conversation for a while. In the midst of it all, it’s more than likely that you’ll be sharing laughter with this group, connecting on a flurry of light-bulb moments, and that you’ll arrive to class expecting to see “the ole gang” in a familiar, and friendly way.

This is a natural outcome of the seminar course. After all, through seeing each and every one of your fellow classmates, learning their different names, and distinguishing their voices, thoughts, and the other tendencies that make them unique, you’ll come to really know them in a comfortable, and even fraternal way. Make no mistake about it, this can go the distance for the rest of your undergraduate career, in other classes, at get-togethers, and in the myriad of other tiny moments that make up the memorable undergrad experience.

With this in mind, the INCOMING class of 2014 should know exactly why they should look forward to a seminar course! BECAUSE SEMINARS RULE!!!

- Jimbo </:-D