The Catholic University of America

Aug. 27, 2009

CUA Enhances Undergraduate Life With Inaugural 'First-Year Experience'

  Todd Lidh, coordinator of the First-Year Experience, talks to CUA freshmen who have not yet declared a major.

Students at The Catholic University of America have always received a strong liberal arts education that includes a grounding in philosophy, theology and writing. Now, beginning on Aug. 31, the university launches a new program that builds on this strength to enhance the education of the university's new freshman class.

This new First-Year Experience program is designed to

  • incorporate new elements - from service-learning to Washington, D.C., excursions to dinner discussions - into four of the already academically rigorous freshman courses
  • create interdisciplinary learning communities in which professors work collaboratively to help students succeed academically
  • increase the sense of community among freshmen
  • strengthen student-faculty and student-adviser relationships
  • establish a common academic core across CUA schools
  • integrate the Catholic intellectual tradition more fully into the curriculum

Freshmen will be grouped in 18-member "learning communities." Each group will stay together for four of their courses: the philosophy course "The Classical Mind" and English course "Rhetoric and Composition" during the fall 2009 semester, and the philosophy course "The Modern Mind" and newly developed theology course "Faith Seeking Understanding" during the spring 2010 semester.

While strengthening connections between students, the learning communities will also provide a setting for freshmen to form a substantial connection with at least one faculty member. In a move that will better integrate teaching and advising, the philosophy instructors will also be the first-year advisers for the students in their learning communities.

The philosophy, English and theology faculty who teach a particular freshman learning community group will read the texts that each other assigns and will coordinate their assignments to build on each other's courses. During the first weeks of class, these three professors will also get together for a dinner discussion and a movie night with the students of their particular learning community.

Clinical assistant professor of English Taryn Okuma gives a student advising handbook to freshman Harrison Davis.

"The goal is to foster a sense of intellectual community, with courses planned in a way to create ongoing collaboration between instructors," says Todd Lidh, coordinator of CUA's First-Year Experience program and clinical assistant professor of English.

Each of the four courses taken within a learning community will include a field trip to a different D.C. institution that will tie that institution into course work. Having English faculty collaborate with philosophy and theology faculty in addressing a subject such as how to interpret the rhetorical strategies of famous monuments or what it means to be a "good person" will allow the Catholic intellectual tradition to penetrate more fully into the overall academic experience, according to Lidh.

Each freshman will also be asked to participate in one of the community service projects offered by the university's Office of Campus Ministry - e.g., volunteering with the organizations So Others Might Eat, St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home, or the literacy tutoring program DC Reads. The student will then be asked to write about this experience in a way that ties it into what he or she is studying in class.

"The freshman year is a crucial one, with its transition from high school to college; it sets the foundation for students' success throughout the college years," says CUA Provost James F. Brennan. "With the new First-Year Experience program, we're taking the good things Catholic University has already been doing for freshmen and making them even better."

MEDIA: For more information, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in Catholic University's Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.