the Undergraduate Mind: The First-Year
Experience from Three Perspectives
courses that comprise the centerpiece of the University's mission hold
the potential to produce that magical, transformational moment that can
change a life forever. Many of us have experienced that and value it for
others, especially members of our own family. Yet it is often difficult
to discern what kind of learning goes on in a college classroom, as well
as to assess the longer-term effect of that learning. This Occasional
Paper presents the opportunity to examine multiple viewpoints about the
first-year University experience by exploring how one course fits into
the larger picture. The ensuing essays offer three personal accounts-one
from a student in the class, the second from that student's mother, and
a third from the course instructor. Writing independently, the authors
responded to guiding questions about teaching and learning.
a University Seminar (USEM) entitled "Drugs in Modern American Society,"
was taught by Bill McAllister, who holds a Ph.D. in History and was at
the time of writing an Assistant Professor and Faculty Consultant at the
University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center. The Undergraduate Record
states that USEMs, "are designed to give first-year students the
opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and explore new ideas
in an environment that encourages interactive learning and intensive discussion.
The seminars are based on ideas that have changed the way we think about
our relation to the world around us." This two-credit course, which
examined historical patterns of drug use and drug control, required students
to read important texts, watch films, write papers, participate in class
discussions, and make a formal class presentation on an individualized
places the writer's experience of this USEM within a larger context, providing
insight into the impact of the University's core mission on individual
lives and the community. The student, who graduated from a private, college-preparatory
high school, compares his USEM with the other classes he took in his first
semester. The mother, a faculty member at a US university, contrasts the
USEM and first-year phenomena more generally with her son's previous academic
life. The instructor examines how this course fit into his longer experience
as a teacher. The identities of the authors and other U.Va. faculty (except
Mr. McAllister) remain anonymous in order to assure confidentiality. Although
this Occasional Paper does not presume to represent everyone's University
experience, we hope these perspectives might give readers pause to contemplate
the potential inherent in all of us to grow and learn.
by the Teaching Resource Center, University of Virginia, Hotel D, 24 East
PO Box 400136, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4136
All rights reserved.