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When President Dan Weiss spoke of the objectives to which Lafayette should dedicate itself during his Inaugural Address in October, the first one he cited was “reaffirm the central importance of liberal education as the best foundation for helping students build productive and rewarding lives.”

Since 1992, the First Year Seminar (FYS) has been instrumental in helping Lafayette do just that. Emphasizing a broad-based look at topics, FYS courses introduce incoming students to the intellectual life of the college community. While it is easy to see how courses in fields such as literature, government, history, and sociology can be avenues for examining issues from a variety of perspectives, one might wonder how an economics course could fit the “broad-based” criteria.

But Rosie Bukics, Jones Professor of Economics and Business and acting dean of studies, shows students how it can through the course The Entrepreneurial Environment: Exploring Innovation, Risk, and Value.

“She wanted us to be able to focus on the major themes – the big picture – not necessarily the little details which probably aren’t as important in the end,” recalls Alaina Lackman ’09 (Philadelphia, Pa.), who took the class last semester. “There were times I walked out of class and was thinking about something that we weren’t talking about directly, but it was related.”

Brendan Willard ’09 (Gaithersburg, Md.) saw that frequently “there isn’t one answer.”

“We saw [in a class project] that the entrepreneurial mind looks at multiple things; it was an exercise that taught us to think in a broader spectrum and ask ‘what else is there?,’ not just to think inside the box,” he says.

Bukics explains, “I view the general purpose of the FYS being to introduce them to the ability to question, the ability to look at a problem or issue from multiple perspectives, to be able to analyze a situation, synthesize the information to reach a certain conclusion – one that does not have a definite answer — because I find that students are often intimidated when something doesn’t have an answer.

“So I only look to solve problems that have no definitive answer. And that does in fact unnerve students, but that is the whole point of academic inquiry to me — that you look at things from multiple perspectives and there are multiple solutions.

“Is one better than another? That remains to be seen. Introducing students to this concept [when they start at Lafayette] is a good time, because I teach higher-level financial theory and accounting courses and it blows their minds as juniors that there isn’t a ‘right answer.’

This desire for concrete answers also leads students to ask Bukics, “Well, what are you looking for?” when doing their papers.

“I’d go to [Bukics] during office hours and try to get that out of her,” admits Willard. “And we would discuss other research that should be added; she’d question me with ‘what is the GDP of the country?’ or ‘what is the unemployment rate?’ She showed me why I needed to know things that would help me prove my point.”

Bukics says she “tells students ‘it’s not what I’m looking for; it’s what you develop and present – as long as its coherent, rational, and well documented, that’s okay.’”

Both students cite developing college-level writing skills as a challenge for them as first semester students. Though Lackman wrote many papers in high school and Willard did not, both agree that Bukics’ class helped them dramatically.

“I’m used to doing basic research, reading information, paraphrasing it, and writing a paper,” says Lackman. “But for [FYS] I had to go far beyond, learning how to take information, understand it, and draw my own conclusions. So in terms of writing research papers, the class really helped because I had never done something that in-depth before. It taught me how to write a more analytical paper.”

All FYS courses feature reading, writing, discussion, presentations, co-curricular activities, and an introduction to library research.

Developing college-level reading skills is another jump from high school, according to Bukics, who says “when I tell them the purpose of the seminar is to teach them to read, they look at me somewhat askance.”

“I’m now able to decide which details are important and which aren’t; I’m able to form my own opinion on what I am reading and take it and put it into a real-world scenario,” says Lackman.

Willard says the class taught him to “look for the bias of the writer, and whether the writer is stating opinion or fact. This class made me an active reader; now I’m thinking about the main themes and what the writer is trying to convey when I read.”

Bukics’ syllabus also includes having the students meet three entrepreneurs, role playing (where students take on the roles of entrepreneur, manager, and technical expert), and films.

She teaches them about the broad-based thinking that goes into being an entrepreneur, the numerous issues faced in the business world, and how to go about solving them. But the deeper meaning of the class is to get students to look at issues and problems with multicolored lenses, and to look at the layers of issues with which one is confronted.

“I think about things more,” says Willard. “I’m reading a book now for another class and I’m picking out more symbolism, thinking about what the author is trying to say and questioning why.”

“The class gave me a broader perspective,” notes Lackman. “It showed that you have to look at more than one element. It taught me to look at the broader spectrum and not just take individual points because everything works together.”

Categorized in: Academic News