Student Life

Student Watch

Some students say they wouldn’t have made it through college without them. First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs) give UW freshmen the chance to take three classes linked by a theme and live together in the same part of campus. Topics range from Truth and the Meaning of Life — with classes on philosophy, Shakespeare, and Western culture — to Cultural Issues for Health Care Professionals, one of the most popular offerings as student interest in those fields climbs.

FIGs started in 2001 with just four groups and seventy-four students; this year, 539 students, or about 10 percent of the freshman class, are enrolled in twenty-nine FIGs. Each group has about twenty students, and they help each other navigate a large campus, choose a major, and make friends. “They do get very tightly bonded in a very short time,” says Greg Smith PhD’85, the program’s director.

Participating students earn better GPAs and graduate at higher rates than those not enrolled in FIGs, while professors who teach the courses say the experience encourages them to do less lecturing and make their classes interactive.

FIGs, which have operated for more than a decade at universities including Indiana and Michigan, earn high praise at the UW. One student who responded to a recent survey said, “I felt that this experience was close to perfect.”

Published in the Spring 2009 issue


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