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First Year of Studies to undergo transition

Kate Antonacci | Friday, October 1, 2004

The second floor of the Coleman-Morse Center is a familiar place for the newest Domers. The First Year of Studies office is housed there and advisors are found shelling out support and guidance daily to Notre Dame’s freshmen.

The nationally renowned and much lauded FYS program first took flight under Dr. Emil Hofman, professor emeritus. Every day, Hofman can be found at his “field office,” a bench conveniently situated in front of the Dome on God Quad. He claimed this spot nearly 14 years ago, after retiring from his 20-year tenure as dean of the First Year of Studies program.

The Freshmen Year of Studies, as it was called under Hofman’s leadership, was started in 1962 under the guidance of the Vice President of Academic Affairs, who thought that first-year students needed to be given better treatment.

Under its first dean, Professor William Burke, the FYS program was more of a processing station with no formal structure, aimed mostly at relieving the individual departments of work.

In 1971, however, as the University made plans to co-educate, Hofman, who was a chemistry professor and assistant dean of the College of Science at the time, was asked to become the program’s next dean by University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh.

He accepted under certain conditions.

“I would insist that it become an autonomous academic unit,” Hofman said.

Since its inception, the program maintained the goals of emphasizing a solid general education and the exposing of students to a wide variety of fields before they choose a particular major.

“All took the same format of courses,” Hofman said. “They had a chance to sample a great deal before they made a decision.”

The mission of FYS is nearly identical today.

As outlined on the current FYS Web site, “Students are encouraged to use the first year as a time of exploration and discovery. Experience in a broad range of courses will enable students to compare areas of study before choosing the program they wish to pursue. Those interested in a specific area will be able to take courses during the first year to affirm that interest and to focus study toward that program.”

FYS has always tried to encourage students to think logically, communicate effectively and develop a passion.

“You should plan to do in life what you can do and what you like to do,” Hofman said.

In the FYS program, each student is required to take one semester of writing, one seminar, two semesters of mathematics, two semesters of science, one semester of history or social science, electives and two physical education requirements. This program was designed under Hofman over 30 years ago.

“That curriculum is the reason why we have the very low attrition rate that we do,” Hofman said. “It was easier to pass the course than it was to fail a course.”

According to the First Year of Studies Web site, 99 percent of students finish their first year successfully and 97 percent return to Notre Dame as sophomores.

Notre Dame currently ranks fourth in lowest attrition rates for freshmen, after Harvard, Princeton and Yale, according to Hofman.

Under Hofman, a guidance program and the Learning Resource Center [LRC] were created. Offering free support for all freshmen, Notre Dame and its FYS program became the “envy of every school in the country,” Hofman said.

Today, the LRC is equipped with study tables, tutoring classrooms and a computer lab, and offers collaborative learning, help sessions, learning strategy and tutoring for freshmen, all free of charge. Over 80 percent of first-year students take advantage of the program’s services.

The First Year of Studies office employs 14 advisors, hired specifically to guide freshmen through their first year.

According to the First Year of Studies Web site, “Academic advising is the centerpiece of the First Year of Studies Program. Throughout the year, advisors are available to assist students with academic concerns. These include awareness of support systems and other resources available on campus and in the surrounding area, as well as ongoing guidance regarding academic goals and eventual choice of college programs.”

In 1990, Hofman decided to retire, hoping to give a younger person the chance to run the FYS program.

Eileen Kolman was chosen as his successor and she has overseen the program for the last 14 years.

Under Kolman’s guidance, the First Year of Studies’ Academic Convocation was born in the fall of 2003. A strong peer-advising program has also developed.