Class of 2003 prematriculant electronic seminar

Daily Pennsylvanian
February 8, 1999

Incoming frosh bond in electronic seminar Members of the Class of 2003 are engaging in an e-mail-based discussion.

By Eric Tucker

As they await the start of their freshman year, members of Penn's incoming Class of 2003 no longer have to resign themselves to the high school senior slump. An on-line seminar -- designed by English Professor Al Filreis and Classical Studies Professor Jim O'Donnell -- launched last week provides a forum for members of the incoming class to meet other prospective freshmen, current Penn students, professors and even alumni, long before they arrive in the fall as freshmen. The seminar, which takes place entirely over e-mail listserves, serves as a gateway to many of the academic and social issues that typically arise at the University.

Last year, the group of 32 high school seniors who participated in the seminar were issued a required reading book for the course -- A History of Reading, by Alberto Manguel. The students discussed the book in an academic context, as well as college requirements, how to choose classes and how to handle stress.

In the beginning of the course, the students wrote a personal introduction that described themselves and one that asked them to identify with another person or object. Later, as the course progressed, they bonded over the anxiety of signing up for classes and choosing professors. They were later "visited" in the seminar by various professors, including Anthropology Professor Alan Mann and Mathematics Department Chairperson Dennis DeTurck.

This year, of the 920 students who were admitted in December under Penn's early-decision program, the nearly 600 who submitted their e-mail addresses on their applications received a letter from College of Arts and Sciences Dean Richard Beeman inviting them to apply for the seminar, which launched last weekend. To apply, students were required to submit a paragraph describing themselves and explaining why they wanted to join the electronic seminar.

Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Kent Peterman said he received over 200 applications from current high school seniors and accepted 125. An additional 125 will be added in May when more students are accepted through regular decision, Peterman said. In a letter sent to this year's crop of early admits, Beeman said that joining the seminar would allow the students to "start with a community of friends among both students and faculty."

According to O'Donnell, narrowing the applicants down to a small "conversational" group is challenging, particularly because of the "highly talented and interesting" people who apply.

This year, there are five separate listserves, each led by a faculty member or administrator. College senior Rachael Goldfarb, the former chairperson of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education, will be subscribing to one of the listserves for the second straight year. Goldfarb, who said she is "really jealous" that no such program existed when she was in high school, said she became "addicted" to participating in the seminar and enjoys speaking with the students on-line. But it is perhaps the social aspect of the seminar that last year's participants enjoyed the most. College freshman Ben Koch, one of last year's program's participants, said it was "nice to know people" at the beginning of the year. And College freshman Zack Lodmer explained that one of his main reasons for applying to the seminar was to "meet cool people." Both said they still keep in touch with many of their former electronic "classmates." Koch said that from a social perspective, he and the rest of his classmates were well-prepared for life at Penn -- especially as the on-line conversations turned to "preparing for school [and those] kind of things." O'Donnell agreed, adding that "when people who did it last year showed up at Penn, they were ready for school in a way that freshmen aren't typically."


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Last modified: Wednesday, 10-Feb-1999 09:02:01 EST