Freshman seminars: interdisciplinary engagements in astronomy
The Freshman Seminar program at the University of Texas is designed to allow groups of fifteen students an engaging introduction to the University. The seminars introduce students to the resources of the university and allow them to identify interesting subjects for further research or future careers. An emphasis on oral and written communication by the students provides these first-year students a transition to college-level writing and thinking. Seminar activities include field trips to an art museum, a research library, and the Humanities Research Center rare book collection. This paper will report on two seminars, each fifteen weeks in length. In "The Galileo Scandal" students examine Galileo's struggle with the church (including a mock trial). They perform activities that connect his use of the telescope and observations to astronomical concepts. In "Astronomy and the Humanities" students analyze various forms of human expression that have astronomical connections (art, drama, literature, music, poetry, and science fiction); they perform hands-on activities to reinforce the related astronomy concepts. Evaluation of the seminars indicates student engagement and improvement in communication skills. Many of the activities could be used independently to engage students enrolled in standard introductory astronomy classes.