Story posted August 15, 2011
It starts with a single question. A student wonders if she can sit in on classes for the first week to try them out.
"I'll take that one," says Bowdoin Biology and Neuroscience Professor Patsy Dickinson. Her fingers clack across a laptop. "No, you just sign up for courses before the beginning of class," she writes, "and then there's an add-drop period."
Ping. Ping, ping. Other students join the chat room. Questions start flying.
Can I take more than one first-year seminar at once? Will my high school chemistry prep me for taking Organic Chemistry? Is there an Intro Arabic course?
Within an hour, more than 60 incoming first-year students will be having virtual conversations with a roomful of Bowdoin faculty members.
The First-Year Faculty Chat, which takes place two weeks before pre-orientation, is the brainchild of the Office of the Dean of First-Year Students. It gives incoming students access to a panel of faculty from various disciplines who discuss the finer points of curriculum, choosing majors, requirements, and any other questions thrown their way.
"Even though it's through a virtual chat, this gives them a taste of how accessible faculty are," says chat organizer Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Dean of First-Year Students Janet Lohmann. "A big part of what Bowdoin is about is being able interact one-on-one with faculty."
"It's all about having the info you need to make the right choices for your courses," says Psychology Professor and Faculty Liaison for Advising, Suzanne Lovett. "In order to do that you have to talk to faculty and staff about where you're coming from, where you want to go, and how we can help get you there."
Questions were flying earlier in the week during a First-Year Student Chat, as a panel of upper class students answered questions about student activities, dorm life, athletics and how to balance it all.
"Students do virtual chats all the time," notes Lohmann, "so we're just trying to meet them where they are. There also is a Facebook page where incoming students can talk to each other."
As if on cue, a student in the Faculty Chat pings notice to his fellow students: "For those of you who don't know who's who, I've posted a screenshot of the professors' introductions on the Bowdoin Class of 2015 Group."
This sends a ripple through the faculty gathering. "Oh my gosh, they're on Facebook at the same time?" gasps Professor Dickinson.
"They're probably on five places at the same time," says Physics Professor Steve Naculich, laughing.
People log on and log off the chat. Sometimes familiar names return. A student who chatted earlier with Associate Professor of Anthropology Krista Van Vleet re-enters after thinking more about fall classes.
"I'm very interested in your course," she writes. "Do you have any suggested reading material I could look into before the course begins?
"Ooooh, you scored!" say her colleagues, who include Asian Studies Professor Vyjayanthi Selinger (Asian Studies), Michael Franz (Government), Connie Chiang (History and Environmental Studies) and David Hecht (History).
Once students arrive on campus, they will begin a series of meetings with their pre-major academic advisors, attend an academic fair, and choose classes. Until then, says Lohmann, tools such as Facebook and chat rooms "help alleviate some of their anxiety and concerns."
"Connecting with the Bowdoin community helps minimize the enormity of what they are about to embark on," she says, adding: "Students say they are very appreciative of being able to connect with faculty before coming to campus. Sometimes chat room exchanges that faculty think were simple remarks may be very weighty for the new students."