The First-Year Experience

The First Year Experience at “K” is a nationally recognized program that helps students achieve academic success, identify and pursue their passions, connect with Kalamazoo College and the greater Kalamazoo communities, construct complex intercultural understandings, and develop a purpose-filled and balanced life. The program extends focused attention on new students to the entire first year rather than just the orientation period. Programs offered during orientation week focus on the dimensions of student growth in hopes that students develop lifelong learning, career readiness, intercultural understanding, leadership and social responsibility — the goals of a Kalamazoo College education. A common reading for the summer culminates with a discussion of the reading held during the orientation week. The first-year seminars start during orientation week and continue through fall quarter. All faculty participate in the first-year experience through advising and/or teaching a seminar.

A strong advisor-training program provides the advisors with excellent advising materials so that faculty know how to work most effectively within the developmental advising model and to be even more effective with our students. A very successful peer leader program as a part of the first-year experience has upperclassmen applying for the opportunity to work with a seminar and becoming an active part of the advising team working with entering students from orientation through the first year.

National Recognition

Kalamazoo College was named one of 13 “Institutions of Excellence in the First College Year” by the National Policy Center on the First Year of College and is featured in the book, Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First Year of College. Dr. Zaide Pixley, emeritus director of the program, was named an Outstanding First-Year Advocate by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition in 2006.

More Information

Dana Jansma, Associate Dean of Students
(269) 337-7210

Elements of the First Year Experience

  • Summer Common Reading – a shared conversation about the Summer Common Reading selection with classmates, faculty, AND the selection’s author
  • LandSea – an optional 18-day wilderness backpacking, climbing canoeing experience
  • Orientation – a week of intensive faculty, staff, student-mentor, and new student involvement
  • First Year Seminars – small, discussion-based seminars that develop critical thinking and college writing skills
  • First Year Forums – special dramatic presentations, interactive learning sessions, and structured conversations
  • Academic Advisors– faculty who know their first-year advisees personally
  • First Year Experience Mentors – student mentors assigned to each first-year student through the first-year seminar

Summer Common Reading

Kalamazoo’s Summer Common Reading joins new students, faculty, and staff in a conversation about a novel they have read during the summer. The author of the chosen novel visits campus during orientation to augment discussion of the work.

It is an important first step in building a cohesive, dynamic, educational community. To share a book means we all begin “on the same page”–literally. We hope that, through reading this book attentively, discussing it with peers and faculty, connecting it to other academic disciplines at the college and making it relevant to students in surprising ways, the Summer Common Reading experience will be seen as a microcosm of, and a model for, a liberal arts education.

Recent Summer Common Reading Selections

  • 2022 Kacen Callender, Felix Ever After
  • 2021 Marianne Chan, All Heathens
  • 2020 LaTanya McQueen, And It Begins Like This
  • 2019 Jaroslav Kalfař, Spaceman of Bohemia
  • 2018 Jennine Capó Crucet, Make Your Home Among Strangers

More Information: Summer Common Reading Website

LandSea Wilderness Experience

Kalamazoo College’s optional LandSea program provides a bridge from high school to college, using challenges encountered in the wilderness to prepare students for the new physical and social environment of their first year on campus.

For nearly 40 years the LandSea program has been helping new students transition to life at college by providing an opportunity to connect with other incoming students and current students who serve as trip leaders. Students establish strong support groups, build awareness, esteem, confidence, responsibility, and self-reliance.

More Information: LandSea Program Website


A gathering of the fellowship in learning that is Kalamazoo College, orientation features intensive faculty, staff, student-mentor, and new student involvement. Students participate in Convocation, a formal welcoming ceremony. They meet the Summer Common Reading author, begin their First-Year Seminars, discuss course selections with their academic advisors, explore academic and co-curricular interests at information sessions and fairs, participate in community service projects, and make new friends.

More Information: Orientation Schedule

First Year Seminars

First-Year Seminars are the centerpiece of the First-Year program. They are vehicles by which students fulfill the writing requirement and serve as laboratories for considering important issues. The seminars are small (16-17 students), begin during orientation, and operate primarily through an exploratory discussion format. They are not introductions to the disciplines, but are explorations of an idea, topic, or event. Seminar faculty develop special topics courses that introduce students to the critical thinking and writing skills required in college, including a particular emphasis on intercultural understanding in keeping with the international focus of the college.

More Information: FYE Website

A Sampling of Seminars

  • The Empire Writes Back
  • The Da Vinci Code: History or Hoax
  • Reading German Fairy Tales: How Grim(m) Are They?
  • Who Are the Samurai?
  • Community Building in Action and Theory
  • Co-authoring Your Life: Writing Your Self in the Context of Others

Seminars are intended to help students find and develop a voice through writing, speaking, analytical reading, discussion, and engagement in critical thinking. They integrate collaborative and group work, peer review, effective discussions, all of which promote student engagement. Students write frequent, short papers, with many opportunities for revision. Each seminar participates in one class session called “Survivor in the Library: College Information Literacy Skills,” intended to help students learn research techniques and apply them to a focused writing project.

Students in each Seminar have as their academic advisor either the instructor or one of several advisors linked to the seminar. Peer Leaders assigned to each Seminar serve as mentors to new students.

First Year Forums

First-Year Forums are intended to help entering K students learn the history and tradition of our College, consider critical educational issues, and continue their academic and personal growth. Forums are built around the Dimensions (educational outcomes) of a K education: intercultural understanding, leadership, social responsibility, career readiness, lifelong learning. They take on many forms, including special dramatic presentations, interactive learning sessions, and structured conversations.

First-year students attend five or more forums during the Fall term.

More Information: FYE Website

A Sampling of Forum Topics

  • The Real Buzz: The Truth and Lies about Campus Alcohol.
  • When Race Becomes Real: Can We Talk about Race?
  • Environmental Challenges in China.
  • Einstein’s Magical Year 1905

Academic Advisors

Advisors, assisted by Peer Leaders, help students set goals, select courses, understand the curriculum and degree requirements, frame questions about career interests, and identify College resources.

Academic advisors are academic mentors who notice what is happening to their advisees, pay attention to their academic progress, and help them work towards completing their degrees and identifying and fulfilling their academic goals. Academic advising at Kalamazoo College helps students to develop academic plans compatible with their interests, abilities, and goals; plan a course of on- and off-campus study and meet degree requirements; grow intellectually and personally; and make the most of their undergraduate education.

New students are assigned to an advisor linked to the First-Year Seminar. In winter of sophomore year, students are required to declare a major and may move to an advisor in the major department. Departmental Student Advisors (DSA) provide a student perspective on majors, minors, and concentrations.

The College provides advisors with a strong training program and excellent advising materials so that faculty knows how to work most effectively within the developmental advising model and to be even more effective with our students.

More Information: Academic Advising Website

First Year Experience Mentors

FYE Mentors are an integral part of the First-Year Experience program. They are sophomore, junior, and senior K students that help first-years navigate the transition to college, connect students to resources on campus, and, serve as a mentor to first-years. Because Peer Leaders are K students, they are able to offer advice and anecdotes drawing from their own experience at K.

During orientation, they lead many activities, build a connection to each student in their assigned seminar, and facilitate the construction of a community within the seminar. Throughout the year, and especially during that first fall term, Peer Leaders participate in some seminar activities, organize social activities for their seminar, and continue to mentor students individually as needed.

More Information: First Year Experience Mentor Webpage

peer leader assisting students with move in