First-Term Seminars Aren’t Just AcademicThe Peer MALT program helps all students prepare for college—and beyond.
Posted on November 3rd, 2023 by

Lauren Hecht, FTS director, said the seminars provide students with skills they'll need well past their first year at Gustavus.

Many colleges offer classes that help their first-year students get comfortable with the unfamiliar pace of higher education. Gustavus supplements this by utilizing the maturity and leadership qualities of our older students to make the first-year acclimation process even more comprehensive and fruitful.

All new Gusties take a First-Term Seminar (FTS), small, discussion-based courses that acquaint students with the skills, habits, and mindsets that will serve their liberal arts journey. These courses have up to 16 students and, in 2023, included such choices as, “Beyond Masks and Supers: Diversity and Identity in Contemporary US Comics;” “Ethics for Everyday Life;” and “Fast Food and Politics.” Incoming students identify their top five FTS options and almost always land in one of their top three. (Although FTS courses are currently only offered in the fall term, the College is considering whether to eventually add them to accommodate students who first arrive on the Hill in the spring semester.)

Most FTS classes revolve around a similar approach. “We typically focus on learning outcomes via critical thinking, writing, speaking, and just giving students lots of practice doing all these tasks,” said Lauren Hecht, instructor for the “Animal Minds” FTS class, associate professor of Psychological Science, and the FTS program director.

Honing these skills can help all Gustavus students thrive, regardless of the major or professional field they end up choosing. Sophia White ’27, a student in Hecht’s FTS class, said the academic component of the seminar have exceeded expectations. “It’s helped me feel like Gustavus is a good place for me because writing and creating an argument is my favorite way to learn,” they said. “It’s been really affirming to come into a school that feels like the place for me, and to have my learning style be appreciated.”

Each FTS instructor also serves as the initial academic advisor for each student in the course, a fairly standard structure. Where Gustavus takes this a step further is with the Peer Mentor, Academic Leader, and Teacher—or Peer MALT—program, for which FTS instructors recruit junior or senior students to work with an FTS class. Peer MALTs act as older siblings of sorts, offering tips, tricks, and advice and familiarizing FTS students with all aspects of campus life.

Hecht asked Maria Widen ’25 to be her Peer MALT for the Animal Minds course, which involved Widen setting up a syllabus for weekly 50-minute sessions that cover almost anything a first-year student might encounter, from how to register a MyGustavus profile to setting up an initial four-year academic plan. “During my first year, I didn’t know something as basic as how to get a document printed until my Peer MALT showed us the procedure; little things like that can really help with the transition to college because it can be so hard and daunting at first,” said Widen, who is focusing a few of her FTS sessions on topics such as how best to work with the Career Center and discussing students’ phone and social media usage. “[First-years] also have a lot of questions on how to manage and schedule your week, your month, your semester,” Widen said. “I try to stay flexible depending on what they want to focus on, but we look for any ways we can to help them succeed in college.”

The FTS experience often has a social aspect when classmates form bonds with each other that blossom into friendships. White, an acknowledged introvert, said this component of FTS has moved more slowly thus far, but it’s also taught her some valuable life lessons. “I’ve realized that I’ve made some assumptions about people based on how high school went, how I grouped people into little boxes or cliques that I didn’t want to be part of,” White said. “But now I’m more open to what I believe college is about, which is crossing those boundaries and intersecting with people you think you wouldn’t normally meet, because these people inevitably will be in your life for a long time.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


One Comment

  1. Dana N Mumey says:

    What a great idea!
    Dana Mumey
    Class of 1983

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