Campus News

First-Year Odyssey courses help faculty, students grow

Curator Maureen O’Brien (left) conducts a tour of Founders Garden for students enrolled in Ashley Calabria’s First-Year Odyssey seminar “Educational Gardens.”

It’s 10:45 on a Monday morning and Ashley Calabria, an assistant professor in the College of Environment and Design, is plunging wooden dowels marked with plant names into the ground outside Caldwell Hall. Moments later, 18 freshmen sift through this “garden” looking for plants that provide relief from common ailments like coughs or fever.

The activity is designed to help students generate ideas for garden-themed lesson plans they will create for local school teachers. And it’s taking place in one of the newest learning environments on campus: A First-Year Odyssey seminar.

The FYO program requires incoming freshmen to take a one-hour course with a tenured or tenure-track faculty member. The students in Calabria’s “Educational Gardens” seminar work on service projects to provide Athens-area teachers with grade-appropriate, curriculum-specific gardening lesson plans.

At the end of the semester, Athens teachers will have ways to create or utilize gardens on their own campuses for educational purposes. The students will have something else: A better understanding of academic life at the university and the role it can play in their tenure here.

“I’ve gotten to know the students and changed what we do based on that,” Calabria said. “For example, I have a pre-med student, and I’ve tried to steer some of the activities we do toward that interest. I try to adjust what we do so that the students will find it relevant to their interests.”

“Teaching a class in which you only have first-years definitely creates a different dynamic,” said Nick Rynearson, assistant professor of classics. “I think brand new university students have a certain open-mindedness that changes class discussions. Plus, when all the students are in the same boat and have similar levels of background, I think they are more willing to participate in discussions and take risks that older students sometimes avoid. You can harness a certain enthusiasm that new university students have to keep the class dynamic. The small class size of course also helps, and I think this is great strength of the program.”

Rynearson teaches the seminar “Coming of Age in Ancient Greek Literature.”

“Having a seminar experience early in their college careers will definitely serve them well when they get to upper-level courses in their majors,” he said. “I think the FYOS program will improve in the future—the first time a new program gets going there are always some rough patches, but it’s a great idea, and I think it will continue to improve.”