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First Year Seminar Booted, ACE Takes Its Place

Last spring a decision was made to remove the First Year Seminar program. This month, a pilot program has been testing its ability to function for the first years.

ACE or Academic Connections for Excellence aims to help first year students transition not only into the Emmanuel community, but also the neighborhood of Boston. The main focus is to increase retention rates, and decrease the amount of transfers out after the first year. Students feel disconnected at Emmanuel, and this program aims to fix that.

Cindy O’Callaghan, Associate Dean of Academic Program Support, developed this program with a committee of faculty. The first year class was divided into 25 groups of about 18-25 students. Each group has a mentor. Mentors range everywhere from a professor to an academic adviser to a campus coordinator to another member of the faculty or staff at Emmanuel.

Sister Janet began the program on August 31 by meeting with all the first year students collectively. Each small group then met once a week to discuss topics such as time management, self-confidence, study habits, programs on and off campus, and how to participate in opportunities throughout the city.

Around mid-October the committee for ACE will meet to discuss the pilot program. Students will fill out surveys beforehand so that the committee can learn how the students felt about the program.

“It’s all about transition.” said Sr. Susan Thornell, SND, Associate Dean of Academic Advising and an ACE adviser.

College, truly, is a time to find oneself. During her second meeting with her students, they discussed the brain’s effect on one’s ability to do something. Whether one can or not, one must cognitively convince oneself that one can complete the task that one desires.

“I can’t dance, or at least I’ve always been sure of that…but maybe, if I believe, I could even be on Dancing with the Stars!” Sr. Thornell said.

College students are at extreme risk for anxiety, depression, and a distorted self-image. These risks stem from late nights, a heavy course load, part-time jobs, poor eating, etc. Transitioning from high school to college is a huge step. In college, most of the work is done outside of class, so it’s difficult for students to adapt to this new life.

The ACE programs ends in the last week of September. Unlike the First Year Seminar, ACE is not a full semester course. It is a non-credit program that students receive a pass/fail for showing up once a week for one month, as well as writing a few brief reflections. Students are taking four other courses besides this.

“This is meant to help the students, not burden them.” O’Callaghan said.

When the five weeks are up, students may continue the first year experience through other programs such as the Academic Resource Center (ARC) and the S.A.G.E. program. The ARC helps with time management and study skills. It has programs that begin around the time of midterms, just as ACE is ending. S.A.G.E. also has tag-along events throughout the year that are available to first year students. This is an option even if they did not sign up to be paired with a S.A.G.E. guide at the beginning of the semester.

Different in many aspects, FYS and ACE really cannot compare. The First Year Seminar existed as a 4-credit course, specific to a discipline. Though many students benefited from the FYS program, others felt lost.

“Faculty have to tune into the needs of freshmen,” Dr. Fiona McDonnell, Associate Professor of Science Education, explains. As both a previous FYS professor and now an ACE adviser, McDonnell believes first years need to connect. Through connection, students will find their paths.

“Not everyone wanted to be there. Half the class may be engaged, while the other half is only there because they have to be.” said Associate Professor of History, Dr. Jeffrey A. Fortin.

He admits that in his FYS, some students were put into an FYS course because it went along with the discipline that they were pursuing. Many, on the other hand, ended up in them solely to fill a requirement. Math and science students, therefore, ended up in humanities courses, and vice versa.

Fortin, who facilitated an FYS on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, is assisting in ACE this semester.

“I am very sad about FYS, but also very happy with ACE,” Fortin adds, “FYS did a great job, but this program is different.”

Heather Alterisio ’17 is a Staff Writer for the Hub. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @HeathAlt.

Posted by on September 24, 2015. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.