Faculty: First-Year Seminar Program


The First-Year Seminars, numbered 89S, are intended to serve as gateway courses for new undergraduate students at Duke. As small group learning experiences, these seminars will introduce first-year students to the kind of academic discourse, written work, and standards they will need to be successful students in college.  Moreover,  seminars permit students to engage with other students and their professor as a community of scholars. Building such a sense of academic community is important to students new to the institution. To promote these goals of the First-Year Seminar program, we recruit leading Duke faculty to teach 89S seminars.


Faculty wishing to offer or re-offer a First-Year Seminar should first notify Dean Andrea Marritt-Pabalate of their interest at andrea.marritt@duke.edu. Faculty should then submit a course proposal to the Courses Committee to request approval for course codes through the online Special Topics Request Form. You will need to log in using your Duke NetID. 

Guidance on Teaching First-Year Seminars

Fostering Student Engagement

One of the advantages of seminars is the opportunity for students to experience active participation and engagement in a small community of scholars. While seminar topics and their pedagogical goals vary, most attach particular importance to class discussion of materials prepared outside of class. You are encouraged to consider this approach. You may also want to consider asking your students to make one or more class presentations during the semester. Using students’ writing as a basis for discussion can also be valuable. Many students enjoy and profit from such opportunities to engage the course material and their peers in active discussion. In evaluating students in seminars, it is common for faculty to take class participation substantially into account.

Providing Feedback  

Your students will all be first-year students. They are likely to be enthusiastic learners and rewarding to teach. Since they are new to the academy, you will have the opportunity to help them strengthen and deepen their capacities to pose meaningful questions, pursue inquiry, and contribute their ideas to ongoing conversations through writing, research, and verbal communication. While you can and should develop a rigorous course design and set robust expectations, try to avoid making assumptions about their base of knowledge in your field or discourse conventions with writing and research in your discipline. As such, you may find it productive to offer your students some specific guidance in approaching the work in your course.

In keeping with the observations made above, consider assigning several shorter papers throughout the semester rather than one term paper at the end as you may be accustomed to doing in seminars offered to upper-division students. This gives you an opportunity to provide feedback early in the semester and throughout the term to students. It provides students the opportunity to advance in their writing, research, and critical thinking across the trajectory of the course. Bear in mind that the first-year writing course, Writing 101, is offered to half of first-year students in the Fall and the other half in the Spring. Therefore, your course represents one of your students’ first college-level courses in which substantial, qualitatively more demanding writing is expected. Assigning several shorter papers might work out better for you and them than a single term paper. That said, if you prefer for your students to write a term paper, you could integrate an interim outline and/or progress reports or drafts so that you can respond along the way and help ensure that their writing progresses successfully. You may also want to supplement faculty feedback during the drafting process with structured peer review so that students can learn from providing and receiving peer feedback.

Facilitating Academic Practices 

First-year students are actively working to navigate the complexities involved with college-level time commitments and work management, and your seminar may offer them valuable practice that will serve them well throughout their undergraduate years. Indeed, as you may know, it has become a priority of Trinity College to encourage undergraduates to engage in mentored research during their undergraduate careers and to write an honor’s thesis in the final year. You could have a profound impact in helping students develop the academic skills, attitudes, behaviors, and practices that will serve them well and perhaps incline them to pursue a capstone experience at the end of their time at Duke.

Student Support

Please feel free to contact the First-Year Seminars Program Director, Dean Andrea Marritt-Pabalate, with any questions.