Members of the faculty and instructional staff at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are welcome to propose a First-Year Interest Group.
A First-Year Interest Group is a cluster of (usually) three UW classes, linked together to explore a common theme, and offered to incoming freshmen who attend these classes together as a cohort. Each FIG is anchored by a small enrollment “main FIG seminar” which is only open to the students in the FIG. The “linked courses” connected to these seminars are regular UW-Madison classes and may be open to other students as well. FIG instructors teach the main FIG seminar courses. These courses are part of their normal teaching load.
Spring semester versions are called Spring Interest Groups (SPRIGs). These usually have just one course connected to the main seminar and are open to any student, not just first-years.
Students flourish in FIGs because of the connections they make by participating in a small-scale academic learning community. The FIGs model supports student development in two ways: the small cohort helps them create meaningful relationships with peers and instructors and the curated group of linked courses provides a unique setting for interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
To deepen learning and build community, many FIG instructors develop co-curricular activities to support student engagement. These could be field trips to campus locations or farther afield, structured service learning opportunities, or even an optional study-abroad component. If you would like to incorporate co-curricular activities in your FIG or seek funding to support your ideas, please get in touch with us for more information.
Overall, we hope that these courses and experiences challenge the students, while also providing them with the kinds of supportive feedback and structure that will help them be successful in their first semester and beyond.
Benefits for you
Rediscover the joy of small-scale undergraduate teaching! FIG students are, on average, diverse, highly engaged, committed, and enthusiastic. Because they attend classes together, they are frequently more comfortable participating in discussions, forming study groups for assignments and projects, and they feel more accountable to attend every class.
FIG instructors may develop new collaborative relationships with the instructors of the linked classes. Many describe the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary teaching as “unmatchable” and “the most memorable part of the experience.” In addition, many FIG instructors report that teaching a FIG positively affects the way they teach their non-FIG classes, and some even report that their FIG experience has helped to transform their research agenda.
Leading a FIG is an excellent way to:
- provide service to your department/unit and the campus
- contribute directly toward campus diversity and retention efforts
- teach a small seminar class to new students
- develop a new class, or find a new approach to teaching an established class
- provide new students with an introduction to your field/department
- collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines
Most FIG instructors receive an S&E stipend and we encourage them to use these funds to support their FIG students’ experience. Supplemental funds for additional out-of-classroom activities may be available.
Creating a FIG or SPRIG
FIGs are offered only in the fall, when new students most need the kind of peer and instructor support provided by this kind of program. A smaller number of SPRIGs are offered only in the spring semester. Proposals for either fall or spring interest group seminars are welcome using the forms linked on the upper right of this page.
Proposals for FIGs should be submitted by the end of October of the preceding year. SPRIGs are proposed during the preceding May. If you have any questions about teaching in either program, please contact the director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are ready to submit a proposal, please feel free to do so any time before the appropriate deadline.
Building your FIG/SPRIG
Start by establishing the theme or topic of the FIG/SPRIG. This theme will be reflected in the content of the main seminar class, which you will teach, and will inform the selection of the linked class(es) taught by others.
Keep in mind that FIGs are available only to first-year students.
- What topics might appeal to students just starting their education at UW–Madison?
- What topics are broad enough to benefit from an interdisciplinary approach?
- What are some big questions or big ideas you might want to address?
- What might be the “hook” to encourage students to join your FIG?
If you have limited experience working with first-year students, think about how you might re-frame an existing class to make it appropriate for new students. Reach out to the FIGs Program staff to discuss your ideas or ask questions.
Your main FIG seminar will enroll no more than 20 students. It can be a course that already exists in the University Guide, or it can be a special topics class created by you just for this purpose.
When considering possible linked classes, look for subjects that complement or support the FIG theme. Ideally, all of the classes in every FIG will fulfill degree and/or breadth requirements. They all must be open to first-year students and apply toward graduation.
If you have ideas about some linked classes that might be a good fit, please include these in your proposal. However, you do not need to identify linked courses in your proposal– we can/will help identify some good possibilities, based on your proposed “main FIG seminar” theme.
For SPRIG proposals: We envision most SPRIGs will be aimed at approximately the sophomore or intermediate level and we hope that SPRIG seminars address big questions and/or big challenges that will spark the curiosity of these early career undergraduates. Is your topic broad enough to benefit from this kind of multi-class/interdisciplinary cohort approach? Might your topic and seminar appeal to students interested in exploring a particular certificate or major?
We welcome the opportunity to discuss your ideas, help identify linked classes, or answer any of your questions. Please contact us!