A semester of changes: First-Year Experience students prepare for future success

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First-Year Experience students at the "RACE: Are We So Different" exhibit at Sloan Museum
First-Year Experience students at the "RACE: Are We So Different" exhibit at Sloan Museum

The evolution has begun. As the semester has progressed, Nancy Grigg — a lecturer within the social work department — has seen the change in the students taking her First-Year Experience (FYE) course. Their focus has gone from earning points for class, to “deep learning”, in which they are concentrating on the learning itself. Their writing is becoming more reflective and tying together numerous themes the class has explored so far.

And more is to come.

“I look forward to reading students’ reflections about what we have covered each and every week, as students often make connections in the classroom curriculum I hadn’t even anticipated,” said Grigg. I am looking forward to seeing student reflections about their learning in the class overall at the end of the semester, and how active, engaged learning within the community has played a part in their approaches to how they hope to ‘change the world’.”

The title of Grigg’s course is So You Want to Change the World. The course helps students foster critical thinking skills, which they then use to study larger societal issues, such as environmental sustainability, public health, and social justice.

University Communications & Marketing has been following the class throughout the semester. You can follow their story on our “Putting Knowledge to Work” blog and the corresponding stories on UM-Flint NOW.

The class, which spent the early weeks of the semester learning about campus resources such as the library and writing center, has been increasingly focused on social justice issues. They recently toured and discussed the RACE: Are We So Different exhibit at Sloan Museum. They have incorporated UM-Flint’s Common Read Book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, which has included holding class twice at For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum.

“I’m really glad I took this class. It has gotten me out to view different things,” said Jennifer Fraley, a first-year student from Burton studying nursing.

Fraley said the class is helping her learn new ways to learn and given her context about Flint’s history.

“If you are open to being open-minded, I recommend this class 100 percent. If you want active learning — not just sitting at your desk, I recommend it, too.”

Katrina Johnston, a first-year student from Davison studying psychology said the class allows the students the chance to discuss issues like homelessness and the environment.

“It’s really helpful because they are things a lot of us think about but it’s not something a lot of us have a place to talk about or have a discussion about it,” Johnston said.

UM-Flint students at the Sloan Museum's RACE: Are We So Different exhibit
UM-Flint students at the Sloan Museum’s RACE: Are We So Different exhibit

As the semester progresses, Grigg hopes students can take their newfound knowledge and begin learning how to apply it to society. They are slated to work early next month at the Center for Hope, a Flint facility that houses a warming center, soup kitchen, and other community services.

“Understanding the need for social justice and systematic change is my aim for student learning outcomes in this course,” said Grigg. “And being able to support the Center for Hope together as a class allows students to build community as a class, while supporting the immediate needs of individuals in the Flint community.”

Robert is a staff writer in University Communications & Marketing. Contact him with comments, questions, and story ideas.