“What Free Time?”:
Freshmen find answers online

After a long and tedious college-application process and the thrill of high- school graduation, the first question that came from one member of Penn’s Class of 2010 was simple and straightforward: “What should I be doing right now?”

Dr. Dennis DeTurck, dean of the College, had some welcome advice: “You should be enjoying your summer,” he told incoming freshmen through a live streaming video link on the College website. “Bask in the glory for a couple of weeks.”

But after some basking, it was time to get busy: Dr. Janet Tighe, dean of freshmen and academic advising, urged the students to read the information packets they had received, make their first contacts with their academic advisers, and “think about how to make the best of your four years here at Penn.”

For the second year in a row, incoming freshmen from all over the globe were able to email questions to University officials who are closely involved with the undergraduate experience: DeTurck and Tighe, along with Dr. Nathan Ensmenger, undergraduate chair of the Science, Technology, and Society program; Katrina Glanzer, assistant director of freshman services; and Dr. Niel McDowell, associate director of academic advising, served as panelists for the first of three webcasts on June 28.

“I think the key to it is that we want to reach out to the students in a way that puts some faces to the names and makes them realize there are actual people here who want to help them succeed academically,” said McDowell. “Most of what they get is print, in booklets and mailings, and they want to hear a voice and see a face.”

Both the questions and answers struck a balance between academics and other aspects of college life. For example, a student athlete asked for advice on how to balance his schedule in order to attend all the practices as well as have time for four courses per semester. The panelists advised student athletes to inform their coaches and professors about conflicts in advance. “The key here is communication,” Glanzer said. She emphasized the fact that the College office exists to support students in situations like athletic and academic time conflicts, so students should not be shy about “letting us know what’s happening in the College office, so we can give you the support you need.”

Many of the questions were about course scheduling; creating a course schedule before arriving at school is often a daunting task for a freshman choosing from a wide array of classes for the first time. Tighe advised students interested in research to “look through the freshman seminar booklet … there is no better way to get involved with a faculty member doing research than to get in a freshman seminar with him or her.” Although freshmen are encouraged to start thinking about potential majors, DeTurck cautioned them not to plunge straight into fulfilling those requirements, and reminded them to sign up for a writing seminar as soon as possible, because “whatever your writing level is, the writing seminars promise to push it up a notch [and] becoming a stronger writer will help you in every other course you take.”

Some of the questions from incoming freshmen illustrated the difference in mindset between college and high-school students. One student wondered if their parents would find out if they failed a test. “If you tell them, they’ll find out,” Tighe answered, reminding the students that once you’re at college, “you’re considered an adult.” She encouraged parents and students to talk about sharing information.

Another student had no scheduled classes three afternoons a week, and wondered what to do with all the free time.

“What do you mean, free time?” said DeTurck.

Tighe emphasized the time-consuming nature of “getting used to life at Penn … and there’s this little question of doing all the reading and the studying and the lab reports,” she said. “Taking four or more courses is essentially a full time job. It’s essentially a 40-hour work week.”

—Jennifer Nath C’08





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