“All CNS first-year students (at UT) are placed into some type of small learning community,” the College of Natural Sciences, or CNS, website says. “If you are placed into a FIG, you will receive your FIG information when you come to Orientation.”
A Freshman Interest Group, or FIG, is a class made up of freshmen who share the same major and similar classes, and its purpose is to ease first-year students’ transition into college.
When I registered for classes my first semester, I was not actively encouraged to participate in a FIG, because my CNS honors program is considered small enough to be a learning community replacement. But not all small learning communities are created equal.
FIGS are not mandatory for all students on campus, but they should be. UT should place all students, regardless of other programs they’re a part of, into FIGs, because their small size and focus on nonacademic topics aid freshmen in their adjustment to college.
Biochemistry freshman Hana Dole is in the Health Science Scholars program, or HSS, one of the three CNS honors programs. After a rocky first semester, she feels being in a FIG would have benefited her.
“Stress was a big thing last semester,” Dole said. “I was too lost to even find resources to deal with it, and HSS didn’t really help with that aspect. They’re really good about providing academic opportunities and discussing career options, which is important, but I think I missed out on more of a personal connection with peers and a mentor by not being in a FIG.”
According to business sophomore Elizabeth Dinh, who is currently a Plan II business FIG mentor, a typical FIG size is 20 to 25 students. This is much smaller than an average of 50 students in HSS. Other honors programs are the same size or bigger. Liberal Arts Honors is considered its own small learning community and welcomes around 140 freshmen each year.
Honors programs are also academically focused, as they should be. They are meant to help you advance your career, and they offer plenty of resources geared toward that purpose. But they don’t provide one critical service: guidance for freshmen to navigate more personal parts of their college journey.
The topics discussed in FIGs range from stress management, finding apartments after freshman year, organizing study groups, the ins and outs of major specific classes and how to approach professors for the first time.
“My goal as a FIG mentor is to be as real as possible with my FIG group,” Dinh said. “I don’t require them to come — I hope everyone wants to come — and we talk about anything that can improve their lives.”
She also noted that she and her FIG group, whom she affectionately referred to as her “figlets”, became close friends by the end of the fall semester.
Annabelle Furrh, a Plan II and business freshman and a member of Dinh’s FIG, shares this sentiment.
“My FIG made the transition into college a lot easier,” Furrh said. “I was surrounded by friendly faces who I would see all the time even outside my FIG, and that actually brought me a lot of comfort. I loved my FIG so much, and it inspired me to become a mentor myself.”
All students should be placed into FIGs so everyone has the opportunity to experience a smoother transition into college.
Dronamraju is a public health freshman from Dallas.