Eugene Lang College Welcomes New Director of First Year Experience and Retention
The transition from high school to college—moving to an unfamiliar city and campus, taking college-level courses, meeting new professors and friends—can be difficult even for well-prepared students. Understanding how vital this period is for a successful college experience, Evan Litwack, Eugene Lang College’s new director of First Year Experience and Retention, aims to strengthen the academic and social foundation the program provides.
“First-year programs are one of the few spaces where ideas about collaboration, finding one’s voice, active learning, and interrogating power structures are cemented and foregrounded,” says Litwack. “All of these elements are central to a critical liberal arts education, and I’ve always been interested in using the First Year space and curriculum as a place to help students internalize the values and ethos to which the liberal arts are committed.”
Litwack comes to the university with years of experience in teaching and leading first-year programs at other colleges and universities. He was drawn to The New School for its place in New York City’s intellectual practice. “There’s something about the liberal arts curriculum that Lang is known for, and its emphasis on melding the academic and the social as part of this broader community-building process, that excites me. I have been working with first-year students for years now, in particular implementing different learning and community-building initiatives, so this position offers a nice intersection of many of my different interests.”
Lang’s first-year experience encourages students to explore a broad range of liberal arts courses during their first year. A key component is the First Year seminar, required for all students. Led by faculty members representing a range of academic disciplines, the seminars challenge students to explore a specific theme or social problem from a number of angles and theoretical perspectives. “The seminar is committed to teaching students about the connections between intellectual work and social justice work,” says Litwack. “Students learn how to research and produce a written argument, engage in seminar-style discussions—not like high school—and to understand the political, ethical, and social value and implications of the liberal arts.”
While the program is oriented toward the students, Litwack also plans to increase support for the faculty who lead the First Year courses. “I hope to create some faculty development initiatives, especially for those who lead the First Year seminars and writing courses, focusing on how we think about the First Year learning space specifically and supporting the faculty leading these courses to ensure their broader social and environmental needs are being met. I’d like to home in on what the commitments and objectives of the seminars really are, so that faculty are confident not only in their own discipline but also in their ability instill the values and competencies we are trying to engender in our students to help them become confident, capable, and committed as they move through Lang and beyond.”
While the seminars prepare students for the academic part of their university experience, Litwack aims to supplement the curriculum with foundational skill-building workshops and other instruction to help them recognize and face the challenges that the transition to college involves. “One of the things about the transition to college is that it’s an incredibly difficult time, even for high-achieving students like ours at Lang. On top of the First Year curriculum, I’m interested in offering students an opportunity to think about what this transition entails in areas like time management and learning how to ask questions and engage in a seminar space—all of those things which might be presumed, but should not be.”