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Enhanced program for first-year students announced

June 25, 2009

Peter Englot
(315) 443-1921

Peter Englot

Syracuse University Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric F. Spina has announced enhancements to the University-wide program for first-year students that introduces them to the campus's vibrant intellectual life. The Shared First-Year Reading Program is evolving into the Shared First-Year Experience, based on the recommendation of the program's steering committee of faculty, staff and student representatives, and consultation with SU's school and college deans. The name change signals a shift in focus from a single book that first-year students read to a cultural event in which they participate and which will be a point of intersection for academic activities coordinated within the schools and colleges.

"The Shared First-Year Reading Program was initiated to provide a unifying intellectual experience for students on our academically expansive and diverse campus," says Spina. "An annually selected common reading helped us make great strides in that direction, but it became clear that we could do even more to promote broader engagement with a common focus across the schools, colleges and disciplines."

For fall 2009 first-year students, that focus will be a performance by Shen Wei Dance Arts (SWDA). This world-renowned dance company performs under the direction of Shen Wei, internationally acclaimed dancer/choreographer and a principal choreographer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies, who has been hailed by The Washington Post as "one of the great artists of our time." On Sept. 24 and 25, SWDA will ignite the stage of the historic Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, performing especially for SU's first-year students. Lauded for his media-crossing and technologically savvy artistry, Shen weaves together ancient and modern themes that speak to contemporary life. The company's Syracuse performance will feature a new work, titled "Re-," developed in part during its spring 2009 residency on the SU campus.

"It's an incredible privilege for the University and the Syracuse community to have such deep interaction with an artist of Shen Wei's stature for such an extended period," observes SU Arts Presenter Carole Brzozowski, who coordinated the company's residency and its impending performances. "At the same time, it's important to understand that Shen Wei wanted to come to Syracuse because he'd learned about the unusual synergy between SU and the community, especially around cultural and intellectual resources, and he thought it would feed his and the company's creativity."

The Shared First-Year Experience will not be defined solely by the event of Shen Wei's performance, but will be extended in time and breadth through a website being developed by the SU Library. It will serve as a clearinghouse for readings, multimedia files and links to external resources selected by SU faculty members to help their first- year students interpret Shen's work and relate it to issues and themes arising in their disciplines and related professions.

Spina sees distinct advantages in the expansive definition of shared experience inherent in the first-year program's evolution. "Building a shared first-year experience around an issue or theme, rather than a particular book, will enable faculty members from the array of disciplines and intellectual approaches represented at SU to choose the means by which they believe their students can engage most effectively with the issue or theme," he says. "Not only will this provide each new student with means of approaching a topic that are most amenable to her or his particular course of study, but the multiplication of perspectives accessible through the program's website will encourage students to explore approaches that they may not have considered before."

SU's schools and colleges are coordinating efforts among their faculties to develop methods and means for engaging ideas related to Shen's work within existing course curricula or through co-curricular activities. Likewise, the schools and colleges are planning communications with their first-year students over the summer and into the academic year that will inform students how to access resources being prepared for them.

In this inaugural year of the Shared First-Year Experience, the SWDA performance also will serve as the Milton First-Year Lecture of the First-Year Forum in The College of Arts and Sciences. The Milton lecture program, funded by the Laura Hanhausen Milton Freshman Lecture Endowment, brings a speaker of national stature to campus each fall to address the new Arts and Sciences entering class. Paul Farmer, Ishmael Beah, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, and Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel are examples of past guest speakers. Syracuse Symposium -- a semester-long intellectual and artistic festival celebrating interdisciplinary thinking, imagining, and creating, presented by The College of Arts and Sciences to the entire Syracuse community -- also is collaborating in presenting the SWDA performance.

Brzozowski sees exciting possibilities for faculty members across the full spectrum of SU's schools and colleges to connect Shen's work to prominent disciplinary issues and challenges. "Shen Wei's boundary-crossing work draws upon themes that resonate not only throughout the arts and humanities, but in the social sciences, professions and even science and technology," she says. "Our campus-wide intellectual engagement will be limited only by our imagination."

Faculty members interested in developing curricular or co-curricular activities related to Shen's residency, performances and underlying themes will find resources to support their work at They are encouraged to contact their school or college coordinator to discuss individual school or college activities and plans. Additional information about SU's Shared Experience, including a list of school or college coordinators, is available on the Provost website.

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