Forming connections and community: What I learned from my First-Year Seminar

Greek statue on a table at an exhibition
Students from Prof. Felicia Else’s upper-level art history course and Kay Etheridge’s First-Year Seminar installed the exhibition, Wonders of Nature and Artifice, in 2017.

The transition to college is an exciting time as you anticipate new places and new people. My move to college meant a five-hour drive, and I was quite nervous about living so far away from my family, but I was also eager for the opportunities that lied ahead. One of the things that helped me in the transition period was my First-Year Seminar, a course specifically for first-year students that integrates their academic and residential lives.

Learn about First-Year Seminars

Every first-year student takes a First-Year Seminar during their first semester, which consists of a small cohort of students, capped at 16, and is taught by a professor who is also there as a support system during the transition into college life.

My First-Year Seminar was called “Math As Muse: The Relationship Between Math and Art,” taught by Mathematics Prof. Kimberly Spayd. We studied art from different cultures and time periods, and how math and geometry were intertwined with it.

As a class, we took two field trips to art museums to apply what we had been learning in class—the first to Washington, D.C., and the second to New York City. As a New York native, this was especially exciting for me because I had never been to Washington, D.C., before, and I got to go during my first semester. It was an amazing experience to get to travel to these cities and view art through a new lens. We also had a mini field trip to Waldo’s, an art gallery and coffee shop in town, where we got to examine art by local artists while enjoying some tea or coffee to support them. This was a memorable experience for me because it made me feel connected to the Gettysburg community outside of the College as well.

As our final project, we each designed a sculpture and made maquettes, which are small-scale models, using the 3D printers on campus. I still have my maquette, and it reminds me how much I learned and grew in just my first semester on campus.

Photo of wooden poles with carvings inside them at the Metropolitan Museum
Seven Bis Poles in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing at The Metropolitan Museum in New York

Connect to campus resources

In addition to our normal class lectures and discussions, Prof. Spayd helped us get acclimated with the resources on campus and in the community. Once a week, she would take us to a different office or department on campus, such as the Office of Multicultural Engagement and the Center for Career Engagement. Each department had a speaker talk to us about the resources they offered, so we knew where to go with anything we might need on campus. These weekly visits familiarized me with all of the resources available on campus.

Prof. Spayd was also a resource for us. She would always ask about how everything was going outside of her class, including our other classes, meals, and advising. This showed us how much she genuinely cared about us and wanted to make sure everything was going OK. She even came to my orchestra concerts. I really felt supported by Prof. Spayd. She made the transition into college life smooth.

Headshot of Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop ’23

Build community

Since my First-Year Seminar had six other students, as one of the smaller seminars, I was able to connect with my peers quickly. It was comforting to have familiar faces to say hello to or to eat with in the Dining Center.

As a first-year student, housing is based off of First-Year Seminars, so I had familiar faces in my residence hall as well. Having close relationships with the other students made my first-year hall feel like a new home. We were all going through the same transition, so I had other students to talk to about my experiences.

I met one of my closest friends, music and psychology double major Nicholas Schwentker ’23, in my First-Year Seminar. We were both declared music majors going into our first years, and we were both interested in adding a second major. Even more of a coincidence, our primary instrument is violin. Nicholas and I are still close friends and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and connect with him during our First-Year Seminar.

Transition to college

Overall, my First-Year Seminar was filled with new and exciting experiences and lots of support both from Prof. Spayd and my peers. My First-Year Seminar helped ease the transition to college, get familiar with the resources available to me, and made Gettysburg College feel like my home away from home. Although my family was five hours away, the support and comfort provided by my First-Year Seminar helped me find my community in Gettysburg.

Read more student perspectives about our First-Year Seminar program.

By Elizabeth Bishop ’23, biology and music double major
Photos by Phuong Le ’20 and courtesy of Elizabeth Bishop ’23
Posted: 07/07/21