Freshman Seminar & College Writing

Developing Essential Skills in the First Year

In their first semester, NEC students enroll in a 2-credit Liberal Arts Seminar (LARTS 211) and a 2-credit College Writing course (LARTS 111), which together help students build essential college-level skills in critical reading and thinking, writing, and public speaking.  In these paired courses, students explore focused topics of study through intellectually challenging readings and class discussions.  Seminar and Writing classes are both small in size (15 students maximum), providing students with a great deal of individual attention as they work on their writing and public speaking skills in a relaxed, supportive environment. (Note that non-native English speakers who have scored below 230 on the TOEFL (CBT) will not register for a Liberal Arts Seminar in the first semester).

Seminar participants are challenged through group presentations to work on interpersonal relations skills, independently resolving issues of leadership and accountability as they form a coherent panel that can successfully field questions from both their instructors and the other students in the seminar.  In midterm and final written projects, students work on improving their analytical writing skills by creating a thesis, developing it in a series of logical paragraphs, and placing it in academic discourse through the skillful use of multiple sources.

Although the Seminar and Writing courses are independent, the teachers of both work closely together to support each other’s course plans and thus provide a practical model to their students of the value of collaboration.  Seminar and Writing teachers schedule individual conferences with their students twice per year (or more often if necessary) and work closely with the NEC Writing & Learning Center in order to ensure that each student’s particular academic needs are being met in this crucial first year of study at NEC.

2013 Seminars

During the summer before their first year, incoming Freshman are asked to indicate their preferences among the seminars being offered. NEC Advisors hope to honor but cannot guarantee these preferences since section sizes are limited and other scheduling factors may come into play. The fall 2013 seminar descriptions are listed below.

Diversity and DifferenceJill Gatlin
“Diversity” has become a buzzword for universities, communities, artists, businesses, and politicians, but what does it really mean?  This seminar explores diversity and human difference as subjects of both celebration and controversy, through the study of personal experiences and observations as well as literary, popular, and scholarly writings.  We will examine how we—as individuals, community members, and citizens of different nations—experience and define human difference and diversity on a daily basis.  Looking at how race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, age, religion, (dis)ability, and other differences shape people’s lives, we’ll consider both destructive and constructive uses of the idea of difference.

Cultural Studies: Consumption and Waste in AmericaJill Gatlin
This seminar examines habits of consuming and discarding at the individual, community, corporate, and national levels to think about the concept of “culture.”  We may be accustomed to thinking of “culture” as the opposite of “trash”—yet nearly everything we consume becomes or produces waste.  Looking at fiction, essays, poetry, visual art, advertisements, architecture, and waste itself, we will question how throwaways, garbage, and waste—labels for not only what we throw in the trashcan but also groups of people, art, or even landscapes—define culture. In addition to short written responses, students will develop a unique argument regarding an object or phenomenon of “waste” of their choosing, using skills of detailed observation, close analysis, and interpretive questioning.

The Doors of PerceptionPatrick Keppel 
What shapes the way we perceive the world and what we believe?   What determines which music, artists, clothing; political candidates we think are “the best?”  We know that external forces such as education and advertising help shape our perceptions and judgments, but to what degree?  Do such forces completely determine our perceptions, to the extent that they are now embedded within us, behind a kind of ‘locked door,’ or is it possible to think independently of those forces?   And when is such embedded knowledge useful in making judgments and not harmful?  Similarly, how much of what we perceive as “success” in a given field is a function of talent and personal effort, and how much is due to environmental factors beyond our control—i.e., to mere chance?   In this seminar, students will be challenged to reflect personally on these questions, using ideas and examples from their own experience, as well as from recent social science research and cultural analyses by Stanley Milgram, Hannah Arendt, Howard Zinn, and Malcolm Gladwell.

The Idea of RightsJames Klein
The question of rights is one of the most important political and personal issues today. But to understand our rights, we need to consider not only what rights are – and who has them – but also their origins, character, and purpose. Students in this seminar will read, analyze, and discuss historical documents defining rights, contemporary essays proposing (or recognizing) new rights, and legal evaluations of what rights we do (and do not) have.

Law and OrderJames Klein
Over the last three hundred years, modern societies have succeeded in imposing law and (to a certain extent) order on their citizens. In this seminar we will discuss how and why that happened, focusing on the law, on crime and punishment, on efforts to end all forms of personal violence, and on the tactics for constructing social conformity.

An Owner's Manual for the Brain –  Jean Chandler
Through videos and reading, this course will expose students to some of the latest research on the human brain.  We will learn about the basic structures and processes of the brain and the mutual effect of brain on behavior and behavior on brain.  Among the topics this seminar will explore are sleep, learning and memory, stress, meditation, and music.  We will experience the scientific method by developing hypotheses and then aggregating and analyzing data from ourselves about such things as how different cycles of sleep affect different kinds of learning and memory and how practicing music mentally compares to practicing physically.  Each member of the seminar will present information or lead the class discussion on one topic after consultation with the teacher.