Northern’s First-Year Seminar is a key component of your success

The program aims to make sure first-year students at Northern transition to college smoothly and develop the skills they need

About First-Year Seminar

Northern's First-Year Seminar (FYS) offers courses in an array of academic disciplines, and is designed to help you acquire the skills necessary for college success. FYS is a springboard that gives you the momentum to succeed academically and personally during your time here, and helps ensure that all students have access to Northern's culture, information, and resources. 


Learning Objectives 

In FYS courses, you will: 

  1. Use critical thinking, writing, and speaking skills to analyze, compare, contrast, and support a position on a particular topic
  2. Infuse relevant evidence and appropriate personal narrative into theme-specific assignments
  3. Articulate the significance of strong reading and communication skills for living and working in a diverse world
  4. Engage in effective group collaboration


These FYS tasks help ensure a foundational understanding of what is needed to succeed in college:

  • A minimum of 250 pages of reading (this may include the Common Read, any assorted welcome-to-college materials, or books and articles pertaining to the seminar topic
  • A minimum of 12 pages of writing (at least five of these pages will be in the form of a brief research paper with a citations page, which will be critiqued by the instructor and revised by the student)
  • At least two five-minute oral presentations (individual or group)
  • One group project or activity



First-Year Seminar 2023-2024 Course List

Learn More

For more information about First-Year Seminar courses, themes, and requirements, contact:


Dr. Ginny Lewis, First-Year Seminar coordinator 



New students coming to college for the first time are looking for connections – for some, it can mean the difference between staying and leaving.


That’s where Northern State University’s First-Year Seminar Program comes in. 


The program strives to provide connections for new students, said Dr. Liz Sills, making them feel at home so that they want to stay and learn.


“Learning is the ultimate outcome,” Sills said. “But community facilitates learning.” 


As Northern’s new first-year seminar coordinator, Sills is working with the newly re-formed First-Year Seminar Committee to add cohesion to Northern’s program. The committee is made up of representatives across campus, from the academic realm as well as NSU Student Affairs:

“Northern’s First-Year Seminar is a key component for student success,” said NSU Provost Dr. Michael Wanous. “In addition to all of the FYS courses being on a variety of interesting topics, they all share common learning outcomes to develop critical thinking, effective writing and speaking, and group collaboration. These capacities prepare students to be successful in college and life after college.”


The overall objective is to make sure Northern first-year students transition into college smoothly and develop the skills they need to succeed.


“Our goal with this program is to keep students’ needs first and make sure that Northern State University is providing our first-year students with what they need in the 2020s,” explained Sills, assistant professor of communication studies.


The program includes required courses for all first-year students. Professors who want to teach a First-Year Seminar course must submit a proposal on their topic. Sills said the committee will make those selections, ensuring that a wide variety of topics and disciplines are represented.


But these instructors do more than teach in the classroom – they serve as mentors on their students’ path to college success. Sills said she still answers questions from some of the students she taught in a past First-Year Seminar course. In this way, the program can result in increased student retention by decreasing confusion in the transition to college, particularly among first-generation or nontraditional students.


Sills’ hope is for all students to walk out of their first year at Northern understanding what’s important about college. That includes critical thinking, discussion, reading and self-initiative.


A lot of students come to college thinking that it’s all about the piece of paper you get at the end, Sills said. “The piece of paper is a great asset once you earn it,” she said. “But figuring out how to earn it is just as much the point.”