iSeminars: preparing first-years for immersive experiences

The new program, held on Commons, will help first-years plan immersive experiences

Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt

Immersion Seminars are a series of new courses being offered to first-year students on Commons this semester.

“As educators and students, we tend to think really instrumentally about college. A lot of us at Vanderbilt are here because we have very successfully checked boxes in our past,” said Dr. Beasley, Dean of Commons.  

However, Immersion Seminars aim to break up this “checking boxes” mindset. iSeminars are six-to-eight week one-credit-hour programs that are open to first-year students. They feature topics such as “The Art and Science of Studying Politics” and “Merging Science, Technology and the Human.” The iSeminar program was born out of an exploratory committee called Immersion Vanderbilt, which consists of two faculty members from each of the four undergraduate schools and two faculty members from Commons.

“The university-wide committee that is working on Immersion Vanderbilt asked how the Commons could start to prepare students to have some kind of an immersive undergrad experience as part of their time at Vanderbilt,” Dean Beasley said.

Their solution was the creation of the iSeminar program, which will be a small intensive exploratory environment. The iSeminars will give Vanderbilt first-years the tools that they need to design their own immersive experiences. According to Beasley, immersive experiences are out-of-classroom encounters that allow Vanderbilt students to apply the knowledge that they have gained from their courses to the real world.  

An example of an immersive experience could be a Blair recital, a senior honors thesis, an internship, or a study abroad trip, Beasley said. According to Beasley, while 70 percent of Vanderbilt students engage in an immersive experience before graduation, the administration’s goal is to require an immersive experience for every member of the class of 2022, bringing that figure up to 100 percent.

Commons has always had a series of special one-credit-hour courses in the spring that only first-years can take, known as Commons Seminars. The difference between a Commons Seminar and an iSeminar is that the intent of this new program is to prepare first-year students for the immersive experiences they will have later in their Vanderbilt careers, while a Commons Seminar allows students to delve deeply into one specific topic.

“The immersion experience is supposed to be that place where you say ‘I want to explore something independently, and less in a check-off-the-box kind of way,’” Beasley said. “Immersive experiences should help you figure out what you imagine your passions are going to be.”