Dear Members of the Class of 2017,
I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself. I’m the incoming Dean of Freshmen. However, I’m not new to the Dean of Studies Office, nor am I new to campus. I’ve taught at Vassar since 1989, and I’ve just finished up a three-year appointment as the co-chair of the Department of English. My field of expertise is nineteenth-century British literature, so I’m the person on campus to talk to if your passions include the works of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. I also participate in the Program in Women’s Studies and am scheduled to co-teach Introduction to Women’s Studies (WMST 130) in the spring. Here’s a shameless plug: Vassar students routinely mention WMST 130 as a “must take” course.
After three years of co-chairing English, the requirements for the major come trippingly off the tongue, but I’m still getting up to speed on the rest of the curriculum. In other words, there may be some areas of the curriculum that you know better than me, but in the best Vassar tradition, we can educate each other. What I’ve always loved about Vassar is that undergraduates and faculty come together as peers. At Vassar, students are not seen as empty vessels into which knowledge is poured. Rather—to switch the metaphor—you are expected to be producers and creators of knowledge, not merely consumers of it. To be sure, that puts an enormous amount of responsibility on your shoulders, but the expectation that you are an engaged member of a community of learners is what makes the Vassar classroom such a dynamic space. I know you are up to the challenge. I’ve been reading your Facebook posts over the last few weeks, and I’m impressed by the intellectual ambition (summer reading lists) and range of references (Edward Snowden, SCOTUS, and Wolf Girls!) on display.
I’m also sensing from your Facebook posts a lot of anxiety about the pre-registration process. Freshman pre-registration is where your Vassar education starts. Selecting courses can be scary because every course you choose means you’re excluding—or “unchoosing”—another. Be assured that there isn’t a wrong or a right at this point because freshman year is for exploring the variety and richness of the curriculum. To that end, here’s a suggestion for bedtime reading: the Vassar course catalog. As you read through it, register what excites and inspires you. It may be a 300-level course in Biology or History that you can’t take for another two years. However, you can begin your trajectory towards it by enrolling in a 100-level course in that field now. Seek out a discipline or a multidisciplinary program that is completely new to you. Branch out, take a risk, be fearless.
As for the nuts and bolts of pre-registration, make sure you carefully read the Freshman Handbook for descriptions of the required Freshman Writing Seminar and peruse the Freshman Schedule of Classes (on the Congrats2017 website) for courses open to first-year students. The full list of course offerings for 2013-2014 is available on the Vassar homepage: click on Academic, Ask Banner, General Information, Schedule of Classes. Classes that are fully enrolled, even if they are at the 100-level, will show up on the on-line Schedule of Classes but not the Freshman Schedule of Classes because you can’t pre-register for them. Class enrollments shift during the drop/add period, so a class that’s closed now might open up during the first week of term.
I’ll be posting on both the Facebook site and the Dean of Freshmen blog throughout the summer. I look forward to meeting you in August when you arrive on campus.