May 12, 2020 | By Jake Weber
Dr. Matthew Schoene, assistant professor of sociology, was recently named director of Albion College's First-Year Seminars program, a core part of the William Atwell Brown, Jr., and Mary Brown Vacin First-Year Experience (FYE), beginning with the 2020-21 academic year. Even as he spent much of the prior two months shifting from on-campus to online instruction, Schoene is looking forward to this next challenge.
"Massive research institutions and small liberal arts colleges are often discussed as if they have nothing in common, but every place I've been, there was someone who took an interest in me and helped me work to my goals," says Schoene, a graduate of Villanova University and The Ohio State University. "Albion's First-Year Seminar program, with its focus on mentoring, advising and the development of college-specific academic skills, strikes me as something I would have loved to have when I was a first-year student. And that's why I wanted to direct the program."
Schoene, who joined the Albion faculty in 2016, has already taught two First-Year Seminars and is enthusiastic about the program.
"My seminar, Patchwork America, was inspired by my background in urban sociology, but really it reflects my interest in how the characteristics of the places we call home affect our day-to-day lives. Our routines. Our hopes and dreams. What we consider possible and impossible pathways for ourselves. So I chose to build a class around perhaps the one thing every single one of us has in common: a home."
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic means Schoene isn't simply stepping into the leadership role. He is already thinking about components that will need to be modified, implemented or redesigned. Nonethless, he is adamant that this fall's seminars, and FYE overall, will lose none of their historic excellence (a record of success that was recognized in U.S. News and World Report's 2020 Best Colleges ranking).
"First-Year Seminars put a strong emphasis on community building, classroom discussion and the development of personal relationships," Schoene notes. "No matter what, the core goals of the program won't change: build community among our students and build capacity to do college work successfully. Only the methods will change."
All entering first-year students take an FYE seminar; some 30 courses will be offered this fall, with names ranging from Intersectional Pizza to Grey's Anatomy and Ethics to Virus Hunters. There also will be seminars that focus on physical activity and disease prevention, Spike Lee films, biology while sailing, improvisational theatre and much more.
"Part of what I absolutely loved about college was the freedom to take the classes I wanted to take," says Schoene, who noted that his seminar-director predecessor, associate professor of anthropology Dr. Allison Harnish, often reminded the faculty that FYE was each class year's only common academic experience. "FYE is our one chance to plan a program that reaches every single one of our students," he adds. "I think that's a powerful opportunity."