First-Year Seminars


What are First-Year Seminars?

First-Year Seminars offer the benefits of an experience often reserved for college seniors to students beginning their college career.

These courses, designed for and offered only to students in their first semester at Gettysburg College, provide an opportunity to work closely with a faculty member and a small cohort of peers to explore a topic that they all find interesting. First-Year Seminars employ and develop a variety of skills including writing, speaking, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and the use of technology or instrumentation.

All students in a First-Year Seminar live in the same residence hall, which provides them with an opportunity to integrate their academic and residential lives. This experience, alongside programming offered through the college’s extended orientation program, offers students the opportunity of learning and working with other students and faculty on common educational interests and goals while deliberately fostering connections that support the transition to college.

Did you know?

  • Class size is limited to 16 students
  • Seminars focus on one particular topic springing from a professor's personal interest
  • Seminars emphasize the active participation of students
  • All students in a First-Year Seminar live in the same residence hall

Don't miss your first opportunity to meet your future mentors.


First-Year Seminar may include field trips, films, guest speakers, workshops, and community service projects. Many of these opportunities are designed for a specific seminar or group of related seminars.

First-Year Seminars are focused on a professor's personal interest, presented in a way that invites discussion.

Learn about the impact of First-Year Seminars


First-Year Seminars


Learn about cutting-edge scientific discoveries.

  • FYS-113-1 Locked Up: Mass Incarceration in America
    With only 5% of the world’s population, the United States accounts for around 25% of those incarcerated across the globe, outpacing countries like Russia and China. This has not always been the case...
    Instructor: Professor Robert Bohrer
    Department of Political Science
  • FYS-116-3 Politics of Faith: A Global Look at War and Peace
    This course examines the role religions play in escalating conflict and promoting peacebuilding. As global religious fault lines emerge, even Western democracies face the challenge of enhancing unity in diversity...
    Instructor: Professor Yasemin Akbaba
    Department of Political Science
  • FYS-116-4 Waging Peace: Religion, Conflict and the World's Peacemakers
    Today we often associate religion with conflict, but what about religion as a source of peacemaking? This course studies peace movements and global peacemakers across a variety of religious and non-religious conflicts, political settings, and cultures to examine the role that religion can play in peacemaking...
    Instructor: Professor Megan Adamson Sijapati
    Department of Religious Studies
  • FYS 117-3 – The Economics of Poverty
    This course is intended to encourage thoughtful analysis and discussion of the perennial problem of poverty...
    Instructor: Professor Brendan Cushing-Daniels
    Department of Economics

Model civil discourse on sensitive issues.

  • FYS 120-3 – What Would Smokey Say?
    Smokey Bear is one of the most highly recognized icons in American culture today. But while many know of his efforts to prevent wildfires...
    Instructor: Professor Professor Randy Wilson
    Department of Environmental Studies
  • FYS-121-3 Soldiers’ Tales – Reading and Writing War
    War is a subject of fascination in our society; but it is an experience only truly understood by participants. War literature is one of the means of conveying the experiences of war to broader audiences...
    Instructor: Professor Ian Andrew Isherwood
    Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
  • FYS 123-3 – Work, Society, and Self
    Work is something that affects almost everyone. Quite often it, and its associated successes and failures, are described in the context of capitalism...
    Instructor: Professor Ben Bruce
    Department of Management
  • FYS-126-3 Myth and Modern Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Approach
    Why do we repeat myths of civilizations past? Do they have something to teach even as they are recycled and re-contextualized? For example, what kind of a hero is Odysseus?
    Instructor: Professor Victoria Reuter
    Department of English

Stories give form to life’s complexities.

Has science turned sense into nonsense?

Global climate change to homeopathic medicine.

  • FYS-143-2 Protest Music & Social Change in the American Experience
    The famous inscription Woody Guthrie placed on his guitar in 1943 says something profound about how many artists and musicians view their work: while art entertains us, it also can enlighten and liberate us as well...
    Instructor: Professor Dave Powell
    Department of Education
  • FYS 143-4 – Mind, Body, Music
    Learning and performing music requires mind, ears, heart, and body. In this course, students explore practices for healthy music-making...
    Instructor: Professor Jocelyn Swigger
    Sunderman Conservatory of Music
  • FYS 144-2 – Why Do People Dance?
    In this class you will discover how dance teaches us about ourselves, our beliefs, and our cultures...
    Instructor: Professor Marta Robertson
    Sunderman Conservatory of Music

Discover how dance teaches us about ourselves.

  • FYS-150 Death and the Meaning of Life
    The topic of death raises more questions than answers. What happens when a person dies?
    Instructor: Professor Charles (Buz) Myers
    Department of Religious Studies

What is the meaning and purpose of our existence?

Foster critical thinking about the press.

Why does it matter knowing where our food comes from?

  • FYS 159-3 – The Romance and Trauma of Exile
    In the last one hundred years, displacement and exile have become the common fate of groups and individuals too numerous to mention...
    Instructor: Professor Christopher D'Addario
    Department of English

Explore the experience of exile.

  • FYS-162-4 Math and Voting
    Elections. In the United States, we vote on many different decisions: we vote for the president of the United States, for our representatives in state and national government, for our local representatives and leaders...
    Instructor: Professor Beth Campbell Hetrick
    Department of Mathematics
  • FYS-166-1 Immigrant Stories
    When people come to America, what are their hopes and fears? What do they think of America when they get here? And what can we learn about America itself, and what it means to be an American, from the dreams of the nation’s immigrants?
    Instructor: Professor Joanne Elizabeth Myers
    Department of English
  • FYS-166-4 Crossing Borders: Immigration, Identity, and Development
    The United States is often called “a nation of immigrants,” and yet Americans have always debated immigration policies and treated certain immigrants as less desirable than others...
    Instructor: Professor Kathleen M. Cain
    Department of Psychology

Identify our personal gender schemas.

  • FYS-170-3 You Say You Want a Revolution? The Sixties Revisited
    This course is designed to look afresh at the “long” 1960s—from John F. Kennedy’s election as president to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974...
    Instructor: Professor Michael J. Birkner
    Department of History
  • FYS-171-4 Encountering Animals
    Introduction to the interdisciplinary field of Human-Animal Studies. This course invites students to collectively examine modern human-animal relationships in cross-cultural, geographic perspective...
    Instructor: Professor Monica V. Ogra
    Department of Environmental Studies
  • FYS 178 – An Experimental Avatar: Discovering Economics
    Microeconomic theory attempts to explain the decisions that individuals and firms make about spending time, money, and other scarce resources...
    Instructor: Professor Rimvydas Baltaduonis
    Department of Economics
  • FYS 178-2 – Voice of the Rebel in America
    When an individual rebels against the status quo, he or she implicitly affirms the existence of a larger community...
    Instructor: Professor Dustin Beall Smith
    Department of English

Interrogate the American zeitgeist.

How do “history” and “memory” shape and influence each other?

Games of imperfect information.

  • FYS-192-4 Beauty, Bodies & Blessings
    Which bodies do you think are beautiful? Bodies that are young? Sexy? Fat? Able? Black? Athletic? What do each of those categories mean, anyway, and who gets to say which is the best?
    Instructor: Professor Kristin Largen
    Religious & Spiritual Life
  • FYS-197-1 The Myths and Realities of the Vietnam War
    In this seminar we will study the Vietnam War in order to determine its impact on the United States and its institutions...
    Instructor: Professor Thomas S. Dombrowsky
    Department of History

Differences go beyond what meets the eye.


First-Year Seminar Stories

Bringing the Past into the Present

Bringing the Past into the Present

“How we understand our past and the past of other people, changes in response to present-day concerns and reflects the shifting nature of collective memory. Our own histories and experiences shape how we view the past and present day.”

Bubonic Plague, Avian flu, and Zombies

Bubonic Plague, Avian flu, and Zombies

Ebola. Enterovirus D68. This fall while the world was challenged with how to contain the latest epidemics, the students in Health Sciences Prof. Amy Dailey’s first-year seminar were studying them.

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life

Can one’s life really change unalterably in one day? That’s the question English Prof. Christopher D’Addario’s students spent a semester answering by viewing films and reading novels that take place over the course of 24 hours.

Spiritual practice, cultural expression, and superheroes

Spiritual practice, cultural expression, and superheroes

“Alongside the supernatural and fantastical contexts of comic books, we talk about historical fiction, we talk about realistic work, and we reflect upon things that have happened in the world around us.”

Why Suzy Won’t Take Science and Dan Won’t Play With Dolls

Why Suzy Won’t Take Science and Dan Won’t Play With Dolls

Professor Stephenson asks students to think about how this may affect the scientific process. Is science always really objective? If we’re told our gender is bad at math or good at science, what does that do to our test scores?

History, Geography, and Woodie Guthrie

History, Geography, and Woodie Guthrie

“It was awesome that I could take a class that had focused study and discussion around great musicians like Woody Guthrie, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.

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