First Year Initiative

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A distinctive part of every new MECA student’s education is FY-In, our innovative first-year seminar. This required course involves studio work, academic research, and involvement with a community partner. Its intent is to fully immerse you in art and design, to involve you in the MECA and Portland communities, and to place your creative efforts into a real-world context. FY-In teaches the critical importance of combining research and practice, and serves as an introduction to collaborating with other students and with a community partner. Students read, write, research, make art, and discuss and critique work while pursuing projects specific to their section. The course is required of all first-year students.

FY-in classes work closely with local organizations like Cultivating Community and SPACE Gallery. Students, faculty and community partners identify a need and FY-In addresses that need, allowing students to creatively solve real-world issues with the community partner. For more information about MECA’s public engagement work, please see the Public Engagement page.

FY-In is also the starting point for MECA’s mentoring program. MECA values mentoring and aspires to be a leader in mentoring and advising. MECA’s mentorship program replaces the traditional faculty advising model found at most colleges.  Every student at MECA has a mentor who helps them navigate through college and beyond. Your FY-In instructor is your mentor for at least the first semester and will help you find a new mentor as you get to know other faculty, staff and alumni. Click here [link] for more information about MECA’s mentoring program.

If you have questions about FY-In, please direct them to Ian Anderson, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College.

Maine College of Art - FY-In from Maine College of Art on Vimeo.

FY-In at MECA is a unique and innovative program, the goal of which is to holistically orient students to the college and to Portland, provide a foundational experience in public engagement, instill basic skills needed to succeed in college, and--most fundamentally--fully engage students as artists and designers in the world. It is well known that student engagement has a positive effect on academic achievement and persistence at college. The fundamental purpose of FY-In is to increase the engagement of our first-year students. While the first-year seminar is ubiquitous in colleges and universities, MECA’s FY-In course is particularly visionary: it combines all of the above in one experiential model. FY-In uses a studio and/or academic project to integrate public engagement, mentoring, and a student success curriculum into one course of study.

Maine College of Art had been running a first-year seminar (FYS) since 2000. FYS at MECA was originally organized by Student Affairs. While it was well-organized and goal-oriented, including programming, activities and seminars critical to student success, the course was not effective enough.

In fall 2007 a Student Success Curriculum Research Committee made the following recommendations: (1) that MECA develop a more meaningful and immersive orientation program; (2) that MECA institute a credit-bearing, integrated and academically meaningful first-year seminar course which would reinforces student support systems academically and interpersonally; and (3) that MECA investigate and assess the role of faculty as advisors and mentors for all students.

This was referred to internally as the “First-Year Initiative” and a course description for a new first-year seminar was approved by the full faculty.

The thinking behind this course, (re)named FY-In was holistic and visionary. Faculty and staff determined that orientation would be a seamless and co-authored introduction to the College.

The team of faculty collaboratively developed mandates with student affairs for FY-In which fully integrated orientation and were supported by the entire institution. These curricular goals were developed through research, by comparing what other institutions do in their first-year seminars, and by thinking about what “would actually work” at MECA. These goals were modified and expanded after the first year of the program. From the start, FY-In has been characterized by team and thematic teaching, service learning, and a combination of academic and studio coursework.

FY-In faculty begin teaching during Orientation, when they establish an overall theme for the course. At the end of each term FY-In invites the entire college (all faculty, staff and students) and all community partners to an end of the term exhibition/celebration of FY-In work.

After the first year of the program, several modifications were made in response to feedback received through thorough quantitative and qualitative assessment. However, the overall pedagogical model has remained consistent since its inception. FY-In faculty continue to work as a team to develop a broad theme, serve as orientation leaders, and organize the final celebration; they also meet and converge in groups for a variety of collaborations through the semester. The scope of the service learning project varies in each section. FY-In is considered a part of each student’s foundational experience in Public Engagement and counts towards the Public Engagement minor.

There is every indication that the implementation of FY-In, along with other key changes, has significantly raised MECA’s first to third year retention rates. Anecdotally, first-year students are much more engaged on campus as a whole.

For questions about the development of FY-In, quantitative data, other means of course assessment, and the course’s ongoing evolution, please contact Ian Anderson, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College at [email protected].

FY-In 2012 FY-in Exhibition  

Each year, the Dean of Maine College of Art reviews submissions of the Full Tuition and Honors Placement Application to identify the top tier of first year students intending to enroll at MECA. From this group of applicants, 15 students are offered placement in MECA’s Honors FY-In course, taught by the Chair of Foundations.

This advanced course is modeled after MECA’s Second Year Lab courses in that these students will take skills they have demonstrated through their application portfolio and apply them to a new idea that they will follow from inception to completion. For many students this is the first opportunity they have to spend an entire semester focused on one idea, and this can lead to new levels of consideration and completion in their work.

In addition to placement in the Honors FY-In course, these students will be given the opportunity to participate in advanced critique sessions with members of our faculty throughout the year.

Read more information and apply to the program here.