As director of the First-Year Seminar (FSEM) program and dean for administrative advising, we are excited to welcome you to the Colgate community. Please read this carefully, as it contains important information related to the FSEM program, the Colgate Community Reads Program (i.e., “Summer Reading”), and your first academic assignment as a Colgate student.

The FSEM program is an integral part of the first-year student experience. Each incoming student will be assigned to a First-Year Seminar course, and the faculty member teaching that course will serve as your academic adviser during your first two years at Colgate, or until you declare your academic concentration (i.e., major).

Students from each FSEM will be housed together in one of Colgate’s Residential Commons. Your FSEM instructor, administrative dean, the commons directors, staff, community leaders (CLs), and peer mentor (Link) will help you to navigate your transition to Colgate and build strong connections within these diverse and inclusive communities. For many of you, the connections you establish through the FSEM and your Residential Commons are the starting points for the most enduring and meaningful relationships you will forge at Colgate. 

First-year students will also be enrolled in a section of the Living and Learning Workshop (LLW). The LLW is a new element of Colgate’s Core curriculum, and its aim is to provide ongoing orientation for new students to enable you to thrive throughout your time on campus. The LLW curriculum is composed of four seventy-five minute class sessions which students attend during the first eight weeks of the fall semester. These modules are intended to offer you opportunities for self-reflection, personal growth, and a thoughtful introduction to the challenges and benefits of being a responsible and involved member of the Colgate community.  

Your Assignments

First Assignment

Your first Colgate assignment consists of two short writing exercises. For the first exercise, you will complete a brief reflection based on the following prompt.

Imagine it is mid-May 2027, i.e., the week of your Colgate graduation. In no more than one double-spaced page, please write a brief letter that details what made your time at Colgate your ideal college experience. Consider describing the growth you made academically, personally, co-curricularly, and in preparation towards your professional ambitions. What impact did you have on this community? What trait or experience do you recall about yourself when you arrived at Colgate that set you up for these achievements? [Note: It’s okay if you are not sure where your path is leading you yet. Do your best to consider what skills and characteristics will contribute to your success and sense of accomplishment.]  

Your response will be shared with your FSEM instructor, your administrative dean, and your LLW facilitator. As part of the LLW, you will also have an opportunity to revisit your response in an exercise devoted to “Self-Reflection and Decision Making.” This is an excellent way to introduce yourself to some of the key mentors in your first-year experience, so please be thoughtful in your response and ensure that this is some of your best writing. 

Second Assignment

The second part of your assignment is to read How to Stand Up to a Dictator by 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Maria Ressa and then prepare a written response (750–1000 words) to one of the two prompts below.

 #1. According to Ressa, democracy depends on access to healthy information ecosystems and responsible habits of information dissemination. Without a shared reality and general agreement about the facts, democratic decision-making quickly breaks down. How would you describe your own information-seeking and information-sharing habits and what kinds of online sources do you engage to inform your view of the world and guide your decision-making? Do you feel manipulated by these information sources, and, if so, in what ways? After reading Ressa’s book, what do you think are the most important practices and techniques for engaging responsibly online and navigating the information ecosystem there? What actions and habits of mind can we cultivate to push back against those who want to use social media for the purposes of sowing political discord and social fragmentation?


#2. Ressa entered Princeton on the “pre-med” track, and she completed the requirements of that track within her first two years of study. What happens to Ressa during her time at Princeton that nudges her away from medicine and into the world of journalism, and how does her undergraduate experience inform her career as a journalist? In particular, how do you think her liberal arts education prepared her to “Stand Up to a Dictator,” even though the risks of doing so are significant? What elements of her education has she relied on to propel her investigative work and activism? What connections can you trace between her educational background and her professional work in defense of journalistic ethics? 

Completing this part of the assignment will obviously require access to Ressa’s book. You can access your free digital copy on the Summer Reading page. You will also receive an email from Vital Source with a unique code to access your free ebook. We hope that this text becomes a point of contact and common interest among members of the Class of 2027, and we are thrilled that the author will visit Colgate to give a talk on Oct. 28.

You can submit both parts of the assignment through this online submission form. We recommend that you write your responses in a separate program and then copy and paste them into the form. If you have trouble accessing the form, please contact ITS (; 315-228-7111). If you have other logistical questions, please contact Laura Billings, academic department coordinator for the FSEM program and the Division of University Studies (; 315-228-7807).

The deadline for completing this assignment is Monday, August 7.

Once you have submitted this assignment, your responses will be distributed to your FSEM instructor, your administrative dean, and your LLW facilitator. You should also keep a copy of this assignment, as you may wish to refer back to it during the academic year. You and your classmates are the foundation of the inclusive community — a community rooted in the understanding, appreciation, and acceptance of differences — Colgate aspires to be. We thank you for taking on this challenge and warmly welcome you to our intellectual community.


Alexander (Xan) Karn
Associate Professor of History
University Professor, First-Year Seminar Program

Kimberly Taylor
Dean for Administrative Advising and Student Conduct