Right from the first day, First Year Seminar (FYS) helps you meet other students, connect with the faculty, and become part of the Elms community.
In FYS, we help you start on the path to discovery about yourself, Elms College, and other important topics. Your instructor becomes your guide and mentor. Together, along with other first year students, you explore a topic, and search for questions and resolutions. Your instructor encourages you to become an active member of the Elms College community as you develop your academic program and path.
First Year Seminar courses are connected by a theme taken from Catholic Social Teaching. The 2019-2020 theme is Rights and Responsibilities, which focuses on the connections between human dignity, human rights, and our obligations to others. All first year students are required to read the Common Read book — Educated, by Tara Westover — during the semester. You will discuss and write about the book in your First Year Seminar class, highlighting how the themes are interwoven with the theme of Rights and Responsibilities.
Educated: Exploring Rights and Responsibilities
The Common Read is a central part of First Year Seminar. It gives all new first-year students a common intellectual experience centered around a theme of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). All first-year students are required to complete the Common Read book, and engage in writing and discussion during the First Year Seminar class. Related events are held throughout the academic year, from panel discussions and community exploration to presentations from invited speakers.
The CST theme for the 2019-2020 academic year is Rights and Responsibilities, which encompasses the connections between human dignity, human rights, and our obligations to others. The Common Read selection is Educated, by Tara Westover.
Educated is Westover’s personal story. Born in Idaho to a father who opposed public education, she never attended school as a child. She spent her days working in her father’s junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife.
She was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom, but that first encounter with education sparked a desire for more. She taught herself math and grammar, then pursued formal learning for a decade, graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and subsequently winning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an M.Phil. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She received a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge in 2014.
For first-year college students, Educated offers lessons in resilience, perseverance, the value of both formal and informal education, and defining family. It speaks to the CST theme of “Rights and Responsibilities” by emphasizing fundamental, basic human rights to dignity, healthcare, education, and the best life possible. Westover pursued those rights, overcoming major hurdles. At the start of her college education, she threw herself into a world where she had no context for navigation; she had to find resources by herself, along with ways to discover what she didn’t know or understand, and ways move into knowledge and understanding.
All first-year students are required to complete the Common Read book, and engage in writing and discussion during the First Year Seminar class; beyond First Year Seminar, the selection also is used in upper-level courses to enrich discussion and encourage inquiry. Throughout the academic year, the college will hold related events, from panel discussions and community exploration to presentations from invited speakers.
Reba Barrows is an undergraduate admission counselor at Elms College. She received both her bachelor of arts and master of education in school counseling degrees from Merrimack College. In the admission office, She supervises the student ambassadors and manages the recruitment of first-year students from Central and Western Massachusetts. Prior to her employment at Elms College, she worked at the secondary level, both in a guidance office and as a substitute teacher.
Jill Bigos received her master’s degree in forensic science. Her interests include the forensic applications of biochemistry and the expansion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education for undergraduates. Her research projects have included work on tadpole metamorphosis and histology. She currently teaches anatomy & physiology for undergraduate nursing majors, as well as forensic science. She is also involved in various STEM outreach initiatives for local students in middle school and high school.
Amanda Garcia, MSA, CPA is the director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and assistant professor of accounting at Elms College. Amanda earned her B.A. in accounting from Elms College and her Master of Science in accounting (MSA) at Western New England University. Amanda teaches in the disciplines of accounting, finance and economics. She has owned a tax and consulting business for over 10 years, which focuses on tax planning for individuals and small businesses. She specializes in small business, rental properties and individuals with investments seeking tax planning strategies. She is also passionate about financial education. She is a 2010 Business West 40 under 40 awardee and finalist for the 2016 Business West Continued Excellence Award. Amanda serves as a volunteer for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, Young Professionals of Greater Springfield, and the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the MSCPA.
William Gilbert, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, AADC
William Gilbert has been a social worker for over 25 years as a clinician, administrator, and educator. He received his MSW from Boston College and his Ph.D. in social work from the University of Connecticut. He has worked at several social service agencies in Connecticut serving in both administrative and clinical positions, including 15 years in the addictions field. He also currently works at Griffin Counseling LLC as a private practice therapist. His dissertation was titled “Correlates of Recovery from Substance Use Disorders.” His primary research interest is the investigation of factors affecting recovery from substance use disorders. He is married with three adult children and three dogs.
Debra Gomes started her career at Alumnae Library in 1980 as a work study student in the Reference Department. In 1985 she started working full-time as the head of circulation and in 1994 became head of serials & systems.
Cecily Hughes is a lecturer in art history, co-director of First Year Seminar, and the Borgia Gallery curator at Elms College. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Awarded a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship for international education, she completed her master of fine arts degree from the Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh. She has an avid interest in contemporary art and is especially drawn to artists who use humor, wit, and satire as a spark for social change. A firm believer in the importance of the liberal arts, her teaching style promotes critical thinking, open discussion from diverse points of view, and clear, concise writing.
Laura McNeil is the director of the Honors Scholar Program and an associate professor of history at Elms College. She received her B.A. from Hampshire College and her Ph.D. in history from Boston College. She offers survey courses in European and world history, and upper-level courses in her areas of specialization, modern Ireland and Britain. She enjoys travel and good food. As such, she has led study-abroad trips to Ireland and Italy, and enjoys offering unusual experiential-learning classes, most notably HIS250: “A Taste of Freedom,” a historical and culinary exploration of the American immigration experience.
Sara received her bachelor of science in accounting from Truman State University and her master of science in accounting from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is licensed as a certified public accountant (CPA) in Massachusetts. Sara started her career in public accounting, specializing in start-up, private equity backed companies and closely-held manufacturers. She has over 10 years of experience in finance and accounting roles, ranging from public accountant to chief financial officer. She teaches in the disciplines of accounting, finance, and economics.
Rob Southall serves as the assistant athletic director and head men’s basketball coach at Elms College. He earned his master’s in physical education and bachelor’s in movement studies from Springfield College. He currently serves as the national chair representative for the New England NCAA basketball regional advisory committee. Prior to his employment at Elms, he served as a lecturer of physical education at Springfield College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.