Update From The First-Year Experience Program

Fall Semester 2009 was a very busy semester in all areas of FYEX.  With record student enrollment and greater participation in Interest Groups, our numbers swelled to over 465 students, faculty and staff in the combined FYEX Programs.  Twenty Interest Groups were offered on a variety of subjects, as well as six sections of Philosophy 100 and three Learning Communities (consisting of two courses each).  FYEX Interest Groups began with a Welcoming Reception to kick off the start of the semester and finished the 13 week series with a Congratulatory Celebration featuring performances and demonstrations related to each interest.  Course evaluations were very positive and ten students have already agreed to serve as Peer Educators for the program next fall. The FYEX Program had the assistance of graduate student, Nicholas Keresztury, who helped with SU Open Houses, event planning and served as emcee at the Finale Celebration. No Learning Communities are being offered this spring, but one section of Phil 100 and one Transfer Student Interest Group are being offered to students enrolled as an entering new or transfer student for the spring semester.

The Common Reading Program: Fall Review

Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was nominated as the current Common Reading/One Book, One community selection and has proven to be an excellent choice for provoking conversation and drawing participation to related events. The Program began in August with a showing of the film, “King Corn”, moderated by Dr. Ed Snyder of the Environmental Sciences Department.  In November, two additional films were shown, “Food, Inc.” and “Fresh, The Movie”, in partnership and coinciding with the American Conservation Film Festival. Guest speaker, rural farmer and folk hero, Joel Salatin (of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma fame) addressed an audience of 600 people in attendance regarding sustainable farming practices and the local food movement.

Two farm tours were conducted at area farms, allowing students and faculty the opportunity to meet local farmers and learn more about the methods and philosophy behind these local farming operations.

An Animal, Vegetable, Miracle dinner in the Dining Hall drew a crowd of 780 people, of whom 150 were members of the Shepherdstown community.  A wide variety of fresh and local foods were offered and music by local bluegrass band, The Speakeasy Boys, provided just the right “down home” atmosphere.

A “Farm to Fork” Cooking Demonstration, led by local chef Liz Wheeler, drew a standing room only crowd.  Wheeler demonstrated making homemade pasta and a variety of sauces using fresh and local meats and produce.  This event was a great success; we hope to offer more events of this nature in the future and will strive to find a larger space to accommodate a greater number of attendees.

The Food Fight Lecture Series provided yet another way to explore themes from the Common Reading and get people talking.  The first Food Fight Lecture was “Living La Vita Local”, featuring a panel of campus and community members including: local restaurant owner, Liz Gallery; Lex Miller, who attempted eating local foods for a year; pig farmer David Ober, who raises pigs in ways similar to the Kingsolver family; and SU Dining Services Director, Jack Shaw, and campus food supplier, Amy BernsteinDr. Clarissa Matthews of the ENVS department moderated the discussion.  Eighty people attended this event, and a lively post-lecture discussion ensued among the audience of students, faculty and community members. 

The second Food Fight Lecture, “Harvest of Plenty, Pastures of Shame”, centered on justice issues surrounding agricultural workers.  Naomi Tsu, Staff Attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center spoke about her court experiences advocating for fair wages and treatment for immigrant agricultural workers.  This event was co-sponsored by Ezekiel’s Place and the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church.  There were seventy-five people in attendance at this event.  The Byrd Center for Legislative Studies provided refreshments after both Food Fight lectures, encouraging attendees to linger and continue a post-discussion conversation on topics presented at the Food Fights.

The Common Reading Program: Upcoming Spring Events

Common Reading events this spring will focus on student-related projects; One involves Dr. Clarissa Matthews’ Sustainable Agriculture class and another is a Gaming class (developing educational games for younger students) taught by Monica Larson of the Communications Department. 

Two films will be shown throughout the semester: “Seed Hunters” (January 27th at 7:00pm in the Byrd CLS) focuses on saving heirloom and other unadulterated seed populations for future use.  Since most seed is now genetically modified and controlled by corporate interests, it is important to save true seed for future generations in the event of some sort of catastrophe or natural disaster. A post-film discussion will be moderated by Dr. Keith Alexander.  The second movie, “The Garden”, will be shown in February (specific date and time to be announced) and is being co-sponsored by the Shepherdstown Film Society and moderated by Liz Wheeler.  This documentary takes place in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Following the famed Watts riots, community members planted vegetables and flowers, establishing a community garden as a symbol of peace, but the city of Los Angeles is now attempting to take the land back for urban development. Who will win in the end?

An Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Student Essay Contest culminates in January with prizes awarded for first ($250), second (dinner for two at Stone Soup Bistro) and third place (the books Food, Inc. and The Omnivore’s Dilemma).

2010/2011 Common Reading Selection Process

Progress is underway in choosing a Common Reading selection for the next academic year. Eighty-seven book nominations were suggested by students and faculty.  The call for nominations was greatly assisted by Communications major, Alex Haley who did her capstone project on increasing Common Reading selection awareness through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. This was effective in increasing the number of student book nominations considerably. In November, the Common Reading Selection Committee met to narrow the nominations to twenty-three books which will be read by First-Year Experience Taskforce members over Winter Break. Thanks to the Scarborough Library for purchasing the books that were not donated by committee members or already available in the library. A meeting set for January 25 will determine the top five book finalists. Of those five books, one will be chosen as the final winner during a voting process conducted in February and March. The winner will be announced April 1. 

SSS/Trio Grant

The FYEX Program also assisted in completing a Department of Education grant for the TRIO Program called the Student Support Services Grant (SSS).  We learn in February if Shepherd received the grant.  If so, the Dr. Howard N. Carper, Jr. Learning Commons will become a beehive of activity with 160 at-risk, low-income, first-generation and/or disabled students receiving intensive and intrusive services to ensure their on-going academic success and graduation.