By Jess Scanlon
Every year among the approximately 900 freshmen, a certain number enter Rider University with no idea which major to choose. For them, their freshman year will consist of engaging in different events and activities to help them narrow down a major through Rider’s new Discovery Program.
Launched officially in the weeks before the fall semester began, The Discovery Program is intended to help provide undecided liberal arts students find their focus through interdisciplinary activities.
“We want them to find their niche,” said Dean of Freshmen Ira Mayo.
Mayo said that undecided freshmen sometimes experience “anxiety about starting college without a major” and that they “need more attention” for that reason.
The program participants consisted of about 30 incoming freshmen, all of whom shared a lack of major. They arrived on campus a week early in late August for a week of interdisciplinary seminars, trips and other activities.
The goal of the Discovery Program is “to provide [undecided students] with a set of pathways that they may choose to follow as they explore their future,” Donald Steven, acting co-director of the implementation of the Discovery Program said.
In order to plan out this pilot program, Academic Affairs worked with the Student Affairs Office.
“It really was a joint effort,” said Dave Keenan, Director of Campus Life.
He also said that in his 16 years at Rider, he had never seen a program where the two offices collaborated like they did for the Discovery Program.
Planning for the pilot program began in summer 2010 to develop it.
“There were meetings, groups and subgroups,” said Ben Dworkin, adjunct assistant professor and director of The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
Dworkin was a “contributor” in his own words, helping with the programming and designing of the pilot. He became involved with the program after Don Steven, the Provost and Vice President for Student Affairs asked him to do so.
Some of the programing included seminars that used an interdisciplinary approach to academics, similar to those utilized by the Baccalaureate Honors Program. For example, seminars brought together the fields of science, political science, environmental science and even sociology and communication. However, participants did not spend their “week of discovery” entirely inside a classroom.
Students went to Long Beach Island (LBI) to see how environmental science and politics interact there. They attended a Broadway play, Memphis, and then were able to tour backstage after the show to see all the different jobs involved in putting on a play. This multidisciplinary approach will continue through the year for the students.
“They will continue linked courses during the fall semester,” Mayo said.
He went on to say that the multidisciplinary approach helps the students see a wide variety of majors, and that participants would filter through the varied information to help them determine a field of study.
Another method is the specialized freshmen seminar that they attend. Dubbed “The Personal Development Seminar,” the course is longer than the average freshman seminar and is more focused. Students receive guidance from a mentor to help them pick a major, according to the Rider website.
So far the program seems to be successful in its purpose of emphasizing a liberal arts education to undecided students. However Dave Keenan is not ready to call it a success. He explained that feedback and review will be needed, and the year is just beginning.
Freshman Liz Huang, believes that the program gave students a broad glance into various areas of liberal arts.
“It truly was a crash-course in experiencing different areas of the liberal arts,” Huang said.
“The intentions of the Discovery Week really shone through. It allowed for hands-on experiences and the formation of life long memories.”
Rider hopes that it will become a community for incoming freshmen, according to Steven.
“We hope the students will discover that Rider is a wonderful place to learn, that Rider is a caring community of friends and supporters,” Steven said.