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Panel begins look at first-year program

A new subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) has been established recently to pay particular attention to the freshman year experience.

The Committee on the First Year Program (CFYP) was charged last winter and has begun meeting under the chairmanship of Professor Thomas J. Greytak of physics. This permanent subcommittee, consisting of faculty, students and staff involved in aspects of the first-year program, has been asked to "assist the CUP in carrying out its oversight and review responsibilities with respect to the first year, work with departments and the dean for undergraduate education to effect small-scale and short-term improvements to the first-year program, and consider larger-scale changes to the first-year program that should be taken up by the CUP."

"Much of the defining character of MIT's undergraduate education develops out of the first year experience of our students," wrote last year's CUP chair, Associate Professor Charles Stewart of political science, in his letter to the new members. "The CFYP will play a critical role in educational innovation and reform at MIT by giving special scrutiny to our first-year program."

In addition to Professor Greytak, faculty on the CFYP are Professors Wit Busza (physics), Rick Danheiser (chemistry), Karen Gleason (chemical engineering), Eric Grimson (electrical engineering and computer science), Jeffrey Harris (economics), Kip V. Hodges (geology; dean for undergraduate curriculum), David Jerison (mathematics), Paul Matsudaira (biology), James Paradis (writing), Harriet Ritvo (history), Donald Sadoway (materials science and engineering) and Arthur Steinberg (anthropology). Two student members -- sophomore Zareena Hussain and Shawdee Eshghi, a junior in biology -- serve on the subcommittee. Marilee Jones, acting director of admissions, and Peggy Enders, associate dean for curriculum support, are also members.

The committee has established a number of short- and long-term goals, Professor Greytak said. Of the long-term goals, "the first is to understand the causes of discontent among the undergraduates, particularly our freshmen." Over the next year, he said, the committee plans to continue its outreach to students and faculty in a variety of ways to capture the many perspectives and opinions on what might be improved about the first-year experience.

As a part of this outreach, Professor Greytak and Kip V. Hodges, the new dean for undergraduate curriculum, will co-sponsor a regular series of lunchtime discussions between members of the committee and individuals or groups who have an interest in improving the first-year experience.

The second long-term goal, Professor Greytak said, "is to investigate a possible change to MIT's pass/no record grading policy. Many faculty have suggested that rather than having P/NR grading associated with all subjects taken in the first year, this grading scheme be attached to a specific set of GIR [General Institute Requirement] subjects -- no matter when they are taken. We plan to study the options and determine student reaction to possible changes of this form."

In the short term, Professor Grey-tak's committee hopes to establish an effective method to disseminate information about subject prerequisites to students, their advisors and faculty. Ongoing responsibilities of the group include monitoring general statistical trends in first-year subjects, grading and enrollments, and working closely with staff in the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education to guide and advise their efforts on behalf of freshmen.

As the CFYP begins its first full year of work, Professor Greytak and his fellow members welcome input from any member of the community.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 17, 1997.

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