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Transylvania University announces its inaugural August term for first-year students

LEXINGTON, Ky.—Transylvania will launch an ambitious three-week academic and co-curricular program designed to introduce first-year students to what a liberal education means when it debuts August term as part of the 2012–13 school year.

During August term, students will take one course, an intensive seminar titled First Engagements, which will focus on a theme selected by a faculty committee each year. This year’s theme is “Making Sense,” a nod to the new students’ efforts to make sense of their transition from high school to college. Emphasis will be on learning how to be a critical reader and thinker, core skills needed to successfully pursue a liberal education.

Each section of the course, numbering about 16 students, will study common texts, which may be supplemented by material chosen by the individual professors. This year’s selections are “Come and Go Molly Snow” by Kentucky author Mary Ann Taylor-Hall and “The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester. Nearly two dozen faculty members from a variety of academic areas worked over the last year to develop the course.

“The First Engagements seminar is meant to be a microcosm of a liberal education,” said Kathleen Jagger, interim vice president and dean of the college. “In these three weeks, first-year students will begin to appreciate the challenge of a college level seminar, strengthen their academic skills and fortify their self-confidence in ways that leave them better prepared to begin the fall term.”

According to John Svarlien, classics professor and faculty director for August term, “This course will allow our new students to discover a different relationship to knowledge from their high school days, where they mostly absorbed information and gave it back in papers and on tests. Through critical reading, they will learn how to have a dialogue with the text, and then expand that into a dialogue in the class with their fellow students and professors. They will learn how to ask the large questions that are at the center of a liberal education.

“All the students will have a similar experience, which I think is important at the beginning of their academic career at Transylvania. We hope there will be a good deal of interaction among students. They’re all taking only one class. They won’t be distracted by other students on campus. They can talk among themselves about how their section is different from another section. We’re hoping for some sort of cross-fertilization.”

Students will also have “August term scholars”- Transylvania juniors and seniors who will serve as mentors both in and out of class-available to guide them through their first three weeks on campus. The August term scholars have worked in tandem with the faculty to develop the individual seminars. They will also work with the faculty as they act as advisors for the first-year students when they register for classes.

As the administrative director for August term, Michael Covert, associate vice president for retention and associate dean of students, has developed a full program of social, cultural and co-curricular activities for the August term students when they’re not in class. The goal is for these students to get to know each other-and the faculty-as they bond as the class of 2016. Optional activities include an excursion to Red River Gorge, movies at the Kentucky Theatre, and tai chi classes.

“The early afternoon sessions may feature book lectures, a film or small group discussions,” Covert said. “These elements will complement the theme chosen by the faculty. We’ll also use that time for traditional orientation sessions on such topics as alcohol awareness, academic integrity and the Green Dot program for sexual assault awareness.”

Reactions to the August term concept have been overwhelmingly positive among both prospective students and their parents according to Brad Goan, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions.

“The students are interested in being able to mesh with their cohorts before everybody gets here,” Goan said. “And parents recognize the advantage of students having the academic expectations established and going through the discovery process of what it means to be a Transylvania scholar.”

First-year students will move into residence halls on Aug. 10, and August term will close on Aug. 30. Fall term classes for all students begin Sept. 4.

Academic orientation for first-year students will continue with First-Year Seminar courses during the fall and winter terms. These courses, centered on a variety of multidisciplinary topics proposed by individual faculty members, will encourage rigorous discussion of issues, help students become more effective writers and teach students the research skills necessary to produce well-informed and original scholarship.

Transylvania, founded in 1780, is the nation’s sixteenth oldest institution of higher learning and is consistently ranked in national publications as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.