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The Vassar First Year

As you begin your first year of college, please consider the values of the community you are about to join as articulated in the Vassar catalogue describing “A Community of Special Character”: “Vassar College seeks to sustain a community of special character in which people of divergent views and backgrounds come together to study and live in the proud tradition of a residential liberal arts college. Vassar students, working closely with the faculty, enjoy the freedom to explore their intellectual and artistic passions, to develop their powers of reason and imagination through the process of analysis and synthesis, to effectively express their unique points of view, to challenge and rethink their own and others’ assumptions, and to struggle with complex questions that sometimes reveal conflicting truths.” Please read the full statment and reflect on the goals and expectations it describes as you prepare “to engage actively in the creation of a community of intellectual freedom, mutually understood dignity, and civil discourse.”

Vassar has set these lofty goals with the confidence that our students are both able and eager to embrace the challenge. Vassar places considerable faith and control in the hands of its students, who are expected to find their own way of taking the liberal arts education offered at Vassar and making it inimitably their own. Given Vassar’s rich and varied curriculum, your education depends on the care with which you plan your academic program. Your course selections should reflect your interests and abilities, but also acknowledge that your first year of study is a time for intellectual adventurousness. We hope that in planning your fall semester courses, especially in working with your pre-major advisor, you keep an open mind, remain flexible, and identify numerous and alternative course options that take advantage of the many possibilities Vassar offers you.

General Education Student Learning Goals

Recently, the faculty of Vassar College endorsed General Education Student Learning Goals, which are listed below, to provide a touchstone for ongoing conversations on campus among students, faculty, and the college community about the meaning and goals of a liberal arts education at Vassar.

No one course, department, or division will address all of the goals, but they are addressed through the totality of a student’s education at Vassar. They should be interpreted broadly to acknowledge the different approaches of our myriad disciplines and the self-direction and empowerment of Vassar students to make independent choices in conversation with faculty advisors and mentors. We envisage that throughout your career at Vassar, you will aspire to achieve significantly in these four areas, although we recognize that students will not achieve all of these goals in the same way and to the same extent. These learning goals serve as resources for pre-major advising conversations and support student planning for your comprehensive liberal education.

General Education Student Learning Goals

  1. Independent Thinking, Creativity, and Intellectual Curiosity: Students will demonstrate independent thinking and intellectual curiosity in their chosen field and across a broad array of disciplines.
    • Conduct original independent research using appropriate sources.
    • Identify problems or issues for which there are complex, ambiguous, or contradictory answers and create dialogs that lead to innovative solutions.
  2. Critical and Analytical Reasons: Students will demonstrate critical and analytical reasoning across a broad array of disciplines.
    • Apply relevant criteria to create, critically analyze, interpret, or reflect ethically on a text, artwork, performance, or other product of human creativity and reasoning
    • Make valid connections among different disciplines or distinct bodies of knowledge.
    • Demonstrate quantitative reasoning by evaluating arguments framed in quantitative or numerical terms.
    • Demonstrate scientific reasoning by applying inductive and/or deductive analysis to evaluate a hypothesis.
    • Demonstrate the ability to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively and responsibly use information to create new knowledge and participate ethically in communities of learning.
    • Demonstrate the ability to use general or discipline-specific technologies to identify, retrieve, analyze, and communicate ideas and information.
  3. Written and Oral Communication: Students will demonstrate proficiency in written and oral communication.
    • Construct a clear and persuasive written argument using appropriate style, structure, and voice.
    • Construct a clear and persuasive oral argument using appropriate techniques that address the needs of the audience.
    • Listen effectively.
  4. Engagement in Diversity, Inclusion and Equity: Students will develop competencies to understand and relate to diversity so as to be fully engaged citizens who promote an equitable and inclusive society.
    • Demonstrate the ability to explain and reflect on important issues within one’s own cultural context and the cultural context of others.
    • Engage with those who differ from oneself in beliefs, behaviors, values, or views.
    • Function effectively and work collaboratively in diverse groups.
    • Build and sustain community by applying knowledge to help others.
    • Demonstrate proficiency speaking, reading, writing, and understanding a language other than English.

New Student Orientation

Classes begin this year on Tuesday, September 3. All new students are expected to arrive at Vassar on Monday, August 26, the first day of New Student Orientation. A detailed schedule for this year’s orientation activities may be found online on the New Students website.

The activities planned for the days before classes begin serve a variety of needs, social as well as academic. Academic advising and registration for classes take place throughout the week. Orientation activities include general assemblies, residence hall meetings, and discussion groups designed to ease your transition to college life and to inform you of the rights and responsibilities that come with being a member of the Vassar community.

How to Use This Handbook

This handbook is designed to help you in your orientation to Vassar. Here you will find the academic information you will need in order to register for classes, including descriptions of Vassar’s requirements and statements by academic departments and programs that will aid you in choosing your classes. You should read through the “Academic Information” and “Departments of Instruction and Multidisciplinary Programs” sections of this handbook in order to familiarize yourself with the great range of choices before you. The section on “Registration for Courses” will give you more specific information about the process by which you will pre-register for three courses over the summer. Once you come to campus, you will have the opportunity to attend the many advising sessions that are a part of orientation, and you will meet twice with your faculty advisor during orientation to add to and revise your course selections. Final registration will take place on Friday, August 30.

Only one requirement must be met in your first year: every new student is required to complete at least one First-Year Writing Seminar. Please consult the “First-Year Writing Seminars” section of this handbook for the 2019/20 offerings. The Vassar catalogue, found online, is the primary source for all information on the academic organization of the college, its requirements for graduation, course offerings, and so forth. If questions arise as you read what follows, please also consult the online catalogue.

The next section of this handbook, “Academic, Residential Life, and Extracurricular Resources”, contains a listing of the people and offices you might turn to with any questions you may have. See, too, “A Note about Ask Banner” in the “Registration for Courses” section of this handbook for information about the online system. You may always call the Office of the Dean of First-Year Students at (845) 437-5258 with any questions as well.

And do remember to complete your Statement of Academic Interests online by July 19, which I will use to assign you a faculty pre-major advisor.

I look forward to meeting you on August 26.

Jennifer Herrera
Dean of First-Year Students and Lecturer in Chemistry