Take a stroll through Portland’s historic Deering Oaks Park, or let your mind travel back in time to excavate each piece of the Mayan culture.

Discover that mathematics, unfortunately for those of us who are less inclined to ratios and derivatives, are part of our everyday lives.

Maybe just sit back and ponder the idea that open-heart surgery and your favorite novel are related.

Do all of this and earn credit at the same time? Yup.

First year students who took advantage of the Entry Year Experience (EYE) courses this year got to experience it all.

Nine different topics were offered and by next fall there will be 27. This new set of courses is the first phase of USM’s new core curriculum.

Starting in the fall of 2009, all first-year students will be required to take one EYE course.

Designed as discussion-based classes, these courses were implemented to help freshmen feel more comfortable during their first semester. By creating a more intimate, conversation-oriented course, USM hopes to foster comfort and community.

EYE courses allow students to learn in-depth information about an interesting topic of their choice.

The decision to add these courses to the core curriculum stems from a study showing an increase in retention throughout freshmen students enrolled in classes like these.

One study, referred to on USM’s website, shows a 13% increase of returning freshmen.

Enrolled in an EYE course on HIV/AIDS, one student described her course as dull until the students started to speak. She really enjoyed when the group got to discuss “intense” issues, and defend their own personal opinions.

“That is when things started to actually get interesting,” she said.

She had her own opinion on making these courses a permanent part of the curriculum. “They would make great electives,” she decided, but she did not agree that the courses should be required.

As a first year student myself, I took advantage of the EYE courses offered last semester and was enrolled in the section on titled “Literature and Medicine.”

I looked forward to going to this class each time we met. I met a lot of new, friendly people, and the material we covered was always interesting. It was something I had never learned before, something I wouldn’t learn in any other course.

It was so much different from all of my other core classes, which were filled with students who tried harder to keep their eyes open than to actually learn something.

We spoke to each other, shared our thoughts, and our professor genuinely wanted to hear our opinions. I was very pleased with the course and I think the fact that freshmen are now required to take great classes like these is a step in the right direction for USM.

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