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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

September 9, 2005

Getting a head start -- and having fun

by Dave Gieseke, LAS Public Relations

  1. Meet roommate.
  2. Organize room.
  3. Check out social scene.
    Those are some of the items on most freshman "to-do" lists before fall classes start. A group of 75 freshmen in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) added a few other "to-dos" to their lists.
  4. Learn about cutting-edge research by Iowa State faculty.
  5. Participate in panel discussions.
  6. Tour the C6 virtual reality complex.

LAS' "Frontiers of the Discipline" last month, associate professor of anthropology Hsain Ilahiane visits with first-year LAS students prior to a panel discussion on Islam. Photo by Dave Gieseke.

The first-year students participated in "Frontiers of the Discipline," a new one-credit course held Aug. 16-18, prior to Destination Iowa State events for all new students to campus. Seminar groups focused on the LAS academic areas of communications, life sciences, mathematics and physical sciences, humanities and the social sciences.

"We developed this seminar to give students immediate access to a stimulating academic experience," said Zora Zimmerman, LAS associate dean. "They got behind the scene of headline research in their particular disciplines and discussed cutting-edge issues in small groups with faculty scholars."

Sarah Moen, an open-option student, participated in the life sciences seminar taught by ecology, evolution and organismal biology faculty members Jim Colbert and Rob Wallace.

"I really liked biology in high school and thought this would be a good opportunity for me to find out what type of research is conducted here at Iowa State," Moen said.

Frontiers sessions met for a half day on Aug. 16 and 18, with a full session on Aug. 17. The groups ate lunches and dinners together, in addition to their time on academic endeavors.

Islam and virtual reality

The instructors set the course structure for each section. In the life sciences section, students explored the biodiversity outside Lagomarcino Hall. They collected mosses and lichens, discovering how many different species coexisted in a small area. They also toured the biological facilities in Bessey Hall.

The mathematical and physical sciences students heard presentations from top Iowa State researchers on topics such as condensed matter physics, computational biology, astrobiology and visualizing data. Their time also included a tour of the C6 virtual reality complex in Howe Hall.

Instructors Steffen Schmidt and Dan Krier arranged a panel discussion on Islam for the social sciences section. A group of communications students went to the Memorial Union to observe and analyze people (freshmen) who were lost.

Jean Goodwin, assistant English professor, who taught the section with the Greenlee School's Michael Bugeja, said they asked students to observe:

  • If the freshmen being observed communicated -- and with whom?
  • Who they spoke with?
  • What did they say?
  • How did they say it?

"There were lots of them," Goodwin said. "The students concluded that 'lost people' have two competing aims in their communication -- to find their way and to preserve their dignity."

Debra Marquart

Associate English professor, poet and author Debra Marquart reads from her work during a Frontiers session for humanities students. Photo by Dave Gieseke.

Other instructors included Steve Kawaler and Alicia Carriquiry, mathematical and physical sciences; and Dawn Bratsch-Prince and Deb Marquart, humanities.

Jump-starting the next 4 years

"Since this was the first time we had ever done a seminar like this, we had no clue on how it would go," Wallace said. "But our students were talking a lot about biology in just a short period of time."

Richard Webster, freshman chemistry major, said Frontiers of the Discipline gave him a good introduction to what his life at Iowa State will become.

"I got into the swing of things," he said. "We had some really awesome presentations by faculty whose research is related to what I'm interested in. I think I know what to expect when I attend class lectures."

"It (Frontiers) was a good way to get a jump start into what I want to do the next four years," said Elizabeth Childs, a sociology major.

"Frontiers of the Discipline" isn't over yet. The sections will meet monthly through November for lectures, discussion on assigned readings, special events and students' shared experiences of transitioning to college.

"Our faculty has given you a smorgasbord of presentations and exercises that have allowed you to explore different fields in your interest areas," Zimmerman said at the seminar's concluding event. "I hope our goals were met, that we've given you a taste of what university life is like."


"I got into the swing of things. We had some really awesome presentations by faculty whose research is related to what I'm interested in."

Richard Webster, freshman