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FYP: Work in progress

Big changes to the first year program yield mixed reviews

by Miko Carating

SAIC’s First Year Program has altered its formerly one-semester core Studio class into a once-a-week, year-long course. Everyone who has taken the core class probably recalls a weekly, two-day itinerary that edifies the fundamentals and conceptual thought within 2D surface, 3D space, and 4D time. Students at the school also know that core Studio tends to be tweaked a bit every year. It had, for example, gone from sixty students in a class to forty-five, and has made facility shifts to the Sharp buildings -- third and fourth floors exclusively -- in recent years.

The decision to prolong core -- the class considered by some as a freshman’s first impression not only of the school, but of Chicago’s art community -- was made based upon the opinions of the students themselves. According to James Elniski, the First Year Program director, a survey was carried out last year in an attempt to improve the FYP. In conjunction with the Undergraduate Division and Student Life, staff members such as Paul Hopkins, Debbie Martin and Undergraduate Dean Bruce Jenkins discussed with Core students the high points and low points of the FYP, as well as taking suggestions for improvement.

“It was a big issue," says Elniski. "Many students and faculty felt a full year would be much more beneficial. I’ve talked with a lot of the faculty, and for the most part they feel really good about the full year core. It’s less rushed and pressurized.”

Though it is a bit soon to tell how this year’s breed of first-years truly feel about core, the connection to a department before second semester seems to have received rave reviews. Now that core Studio is only once a week, it gives students an opportunity to take up specific artistic fields and mediums in Contemporary Practice classes.

Last year’s core students may take a liking to a more spacious arrangement. K.P. Luczak, a first year student in the fall of 2005, says, “Core needed to be more of a ‘core.’ It was too short to accomplish what it could have accomplished. I heard they were making it a full-year class this year, which may work out for the better.” Andria Niedzielski and Ye-Eun Whang, also first year alumni at SAIC, both agree that core’s one semester format worked against the idea of networking and community. “Core needed a lot of adjustment last year,” says Ye-Eun. “The concept was appealing, but crunching it in one semester made its execution sloppy. Critiques could have been better if we all had more time to get to know each other.” Andria says, “The small numbers in my research studio class made for better critiques. Core was huge and lacked intimacy compared to Research Studio.”

“One of the corner stones of the FYP is providing a sense of feeling a part of the artistic community,” says James Elniski. Mark Jeffrey, an instructor in the First Year Program, agrees. “The first year experience gives a transparent connection to the Chicago art community,” he states. “This is what happens, this is what occurs.”

Though less rushed, the scrupulousness found in last year’s core will not be sacrificed. The faculty believes that primary ways to develop structure and rigor is through collaboration with the students. “The dynamic faculty this year know that learning and rigor is give and take,” Elniski says. “Also, major projects are obviously still required.”

Jon Ardila, a freshman this year, says core is one of his favorite classes. “All the cores are different though because I know people who aren’t having as much fun. I guess it depends on the teacher’s methods.”

As with any new changes, criticism is inevitable. Parker Khouri, a current first year student, seems to be one of the people Jon described as “not having much fun.” He thinks the changes are not the greatest concept for the class. “Once a week, the teachers load you with a bunch of stuff… it is a bit overwhelming with other classes,” he says. Julie Na and Tina Park, second year students, say they loved how core was conducted last year and did not want any changes made. “The rigor will be missing,” says Julie. “I thought core was perfect as is,” Tina adds.

Though fueled with mixed reviews, James Elniski remains confident in the decision made. “It was based on the opinions of students who spoke out,” he says. “The faculty, in general, likes how it’s going. Students are given more time to orient into the program of the courses. The change has been generally for the better.”