Engineering First-Year Seminars Faculty Guidance

Thank you for your interest in teaching a First-Year Seminar (FYS) in engineering. This is a chance to share your knowledge and professional experiences with our new students. The foundational goal of these FYS’s is to engage students in learning. A second goal is to facilitate students’ transition to college life.

As Coordinator of FYS’s since 1999, I have a few important insights and advice for how to make this experience a good one for the students, and for you.

First, be aware that there are five First-Year Engagement objectives for all FYS’s at Penn State. Faculty Senate establishes these. They are:

  1. To introduce students to university study
  2. To introduce students to Penn State as an academic community, including fields of study and areas of interest available to students.
  3. To acquaint students with the learning tools and resources available at Penn State.
  4. To provide an opportunity for students to develop relationships with full-time faculty and other students in an academic area of interest to them
  5. To introduce students to their responsibilities as part of the University community. 

You may achieve these objectives in your own ways in your FYS. You may also choose to use the Engineering Passport to Success that was developed to ensure that students have an experience in each of the five objectives. Using the Passport is a way to satisfy the Senate requirements without constraining what you do during class time and related assignments. 

Second, your class should provide an opportunity for students to do stuff. It should involve a lot of active learning like case studies, guided discussion, oral reports, building, experimenting, and ways for students to get to know each other and you. It should not be mostly passive, e.g. lectures. Here is an example of an FYS class I’ve developed that follows this advice. 

Third, students should be given outside-of-class (OOC) work to do. Using the Passport requires them to do five activities that take about 1-2 hours each, so in total the Passport is equivalent to five weeks of OOC work. The rule-of-thumb, again based off Senate guidelines is about 2 hours of OOC work for each hour of class. 

And last, students’ grades should be based on assessments of their work just like any other class. While exams are not recommended, their work should be regularly assessed and graded. Attendance should be expected and noted, while unexcused absences should be penalized. I typically deduct 5 percent from the final grade for every unexcused absence.  

I’m always available to help you devise a new FYS or to improve one. 

Andy Lau, FYS Coordinator



The School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) delivers effective engineering education and unrivaled research opportunities through active, collaborative, project-based, and professionally oriented classroom experiences. SEDTAPP offers a variety of programs that partner faculty, students, and industry in the study of real-life engineering problems. Our programs teach students to solve real-life problems with innovative solutions. 

School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs

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The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-2952