Pomona’s Writing Program Directors Hold First-Year Seminar Conference

A select group of professors from liberal arts colleges around the country came to Pomona last weekend to discuss a topic of common interest: first-year seminar programs. The conference, entitled “Teaching and Maintaining Multidisciplinary First-Year Seminar Programs,” was hosted by Dara Regaignon, Pomona’s Director of College Writing, and Pam Bromley, Assistant Director of College Writing. Although discussions were not limited to writing-based seminars, the conference considered how writing in particular fits into the first-year curriculum.

“When you’re considering your own program you often wonder—what kinds of pedagogy workshops do other institutions offer? What kinds of guidelines for numbers of papers assigned? What kinds of goals for student writing? How do they keep professors committed?” Regaignon said. “So we thought it would be important for people who are involved in teaching in those programs regularly to get together and exchange ideas.”

Faculty from ten liberal arts colleges attended. Harvey Mudd was the only other Claremont college to send representatives to the conference. Participants from all schools were invited to lead discussions based on their unique experiences. Topics ranged according to the different obstacles each institution faces and what they have, or have not, found to be successful.

The conference was one of an ongoing series funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, called the Mellon 23, given to a set of 23 schools. The Mellon 23 aims to fund specialized workshops where faculty from colleges can come together to find support in their work, connect with fellow professors, and address challenges that American liberal arts colleges mutually face. Regaigon, with help from Jyl Gentzler of Amherst College and Bob Geitz of Oberlin College, submitted the proposal for this first-year seminar conference.

“A lot of the small liberal arts colleges have some kind of first-year seminar, and some are very long-standing. At Oberlin and Pomona they’ve been ongoing for 25 years, but there is a really wide range within the set of schools,” said Regaignon.

At Pomona, the semester-long ID 1 program is a required seminar taught by a rotating group of faculty. Each year, roughly 28 seminars are taught by professors from a wide variety of fields, making the program very multidisciplinary.

Regaignon, who helps coordinate the ID 1 program, said she was looking for fresh ideas she could incorporate into Pomona’s curriculum. When asked what she thinks Pomona needs to address, she said: offering more sections, making the workload and expectations as consistent as possible, and getting faculty to engage with the program.

“I learned that these programs are far more similar than they are different,” she said. “Some of the things we struggle with at Pomona, other institutions are also struggling with, or some have figured out how to address, so I took away some very concrete ideas about what we can do here.”

She said Pomona has begun a review of the ID 1 program, which will offer the school an opportunity to implement these new ideas. However, the complex process must still undergo review by administrators, faculty, and some student groups, so major changes will not occur for another few years.

Overall, Regaignon believes the conference was a success and hopes to continue communicating with the faculty who visited.

“Whether they’re brand new and want to build up as many ideas as they can, or if it’s because they’re similarly trying to figure out how to reinvigorate a long-standing program, I think we all got something out of it to take back to our own institutions,” she said.

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