First Year Fusion
In August 2019, UMF piloted a new version of First Year Seminar for members of the class of 2023 called First Year Fusion (FYF). Three sections began their FYF course a week before the semester started to participate in a 5-day field experience. A course taught by Religion Professor Phil Francis began with a tranquil retreat in coastal Maine to reflect on what is the Good Life through immersion in nature and readings such as Henry David Thoreau. Incoming student Koley True, Class of 2022, described it as “a transformative experience. I never would have imagined that a college course could be so impactful on my life.”
The two other FYF sections led by Geography Professors Jesse Minor and Matt McCourt traveled around the State of Maine speaking with people who are Making Change in Rural Maine, including UMF alumni such as Lucus Butler (‘14). In Dover-Foxcroft, Butler brought students to an ice arena where they brainstormed on how it could be more effectively utilized for other programming. In Monson, the class learned about efforts to address the needs of disabled community members and helped map out sidewalk hazards. In Islesford and Little Cranberry Island, students discussed with UMF alum Haley Estabrook ('17) the impact that educators can have in a small community and participated in GIS mapping for the local fire department.
After an intense 5-days in the field, the three FYF classes reconverged on campus just before Orientation. They gathered together to present to one another their findings from their field experience, discussing the connections and overlap between their experiences and course themes. Having gained new skills, experiences, and friends, the FYF courses were an excellent way to head into their first semester at UMF. Sydney Beecher, class of 2023, stated that she "could not picture beginning her college experience any other way. It provided me with a solid foundation that I used to be successful throughout the rest of the semester."
As the students resumed their studies on campus, the FYF courses continued to incorporate experiential education in their curriculum. For example, students in Matt McCourt’s section of Making Change in Maine sought to become local “change-makers” themselves to the benefit of some of the youngest members of the Farmington community, pre-schoolers at the Sweatt-Winter Center in the heart of UMF’s campus. To encourage their connection with nature, the FYF students redesigned the Center’s play space.
Having completed half of their course hours in the pre-semester week of field experience, the FYF courses ended mid-way through the fall semester, permitting these first-year students to focus on their other three courses for the remainder of the semester. But to help maintain these early connections they made with classmates and faculty, two alumni of the FYF pilot, Mercedes Perzanowski (’23) and Karrington Murphy (’23), worked with the Mantor Library staff to organize a Harry Potter-themed escape room in early November.
The FYF pilot was so successful that UMF has decided to add two more sections for the incoming class of 2024: How to Succeed in College Without Really Trying? to be taught by English Lecturer Denise Cundick, and Honors 100: Success and Failure by Creative Writing Professor Shana Youngdahl. The First-Year Fusion courses give incoming students a great opportunity to connect with faculty and other students as they embark on their college career and provide them with early exposure to the benefits (and fun) of experiential education. In a sentiment broadly shared by his classmates, Ryan Bruenighaus (’23) offered his endorsement of the new FYF program as “a terrific way to kick start my time at Farmington.”