L&S Curricular Connections

Freshman & Sophomore Seminars

For Faculty

Mechanical engineering professor Oliver O’Reilly teaches ME 24, a freshman seminar class, at UC Berkeley’s West Plaza outside McLaughlin Hall in Berkeley, Calif. on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Photo by Adam Lau/Berkeley Engineering)

The Freshman and Sophomore Seminar Program arose from the conviction that early intellectual contact with faculty members would greatly enhance the undergraduate experience at Berkeley. Every semester, faculty members from every campus department come together to offer approximately one hundred seminars on an astonishing range of topics. Faculty are encouraged to design seminars on topics they don’t typically have a chance to teach, including an emerging research area or an outside interest. Students are encouraged to choose their seminars based on the pull of intellectual curiosity, a desire to explore enticing and even unfamiliar realms.

Seminars come in all shapes and sizes: there are enough models, and enough flexibility, to make it possible for any faculty member who would like to participate to do so. What all the seminars have in common is the sense of intellectual excitement that is generated when faculty and students come together to explore a mutual interest together. All of these classes are also small enough to allow for the interactions that characterize a good seminar.

Faculty members who would like to offer a seminar in an upcoming semester should first let their department chair and scheduler know, and then submit their seminar information to the Faculty Participation Form.

If you have questions, contact Aileen Liu, Director of Curricular Engagement Initiatives, or Heather Mäkiharju, Academic Engagement Policy Analyst.

"Working with undergraduate students through the seminar program has been one of my favorite teaching jobs at Berkeley. The students are a delight to work with, always so appreciative, and I have subsequently gotten to work with some of them on research through URAP."
Christine Wildsoet, Professor of Optometry and Vision Science

Grant Guidelines

As an incentive for increasing the number of high quality freshman and sophomore seminars, we award an unrestricted grant to any Senate faculty member, active or emeritus, offering a one- or two-unit seminar taught in addition to their regular teaching assignment. Eligible seminars will qualify for a $3000 grant.

What can the grant funds be used for? The grant may be expended for any purpose for which research or professional development funds can legitimately be used—e.g. travel, equipment, research assistance. Note that any goods (including electronic and computing equipment) bought with these or any other university funds are the property of the university, and your department may ask that you return this equipment if you leave the university or retire, for instance. The grant can also be used for expenses related to the seminar, including entertaining students for dinner at one’s home, within university guidelines pertaining to entertainment expenses. 

Grant funds cannot be used to pay yourself a summer salary, though you may choose to use the grant to pay the salary of a research assistant.

Who is eligible to receive a grant? Any Senate faculty member, active or emeritus, offering a one- or two-unit seminar taught in addition to his or her regular teaching assignment, is eligible.

Are there special rules that apply to emeriti? Yes. For our purposes, any freshman or sophomore seminar, of any unit value, is likely to count as an overload, since the regular teaching assignment for emeriti is by definition zero.

Can faculty members teach a freshman or sophomore seminar, and receive a grant for it, while on sabbatical? Yes. A one- or two-unit seminar taught by a faculty member on sabbatical would be considered an overload; therefore, a grant would be awarded in such a case. However, teaching such a seminar would not qualify the faculty member for “sabbatical in residence” status, which requires the faculty member to teach a three-unit course. Faculty members on “sabbatical in residence” status do not qualify for the grant.

What is the policy on team teaching? The eligible faculty members on the team will split the $3000 grant equally.

Is there a limit to the number of grants one faculty member may receive? There is a limit of one $3000 grant per semester. Additional seminars taught in subsequent semesters are likely to be eligible. A grant will be awarded automatically the first time you teach a seminar as an overload beginning in fall 1998. However, additional grants to a given faculty member will be awarded only if the initial offering has been successful. This does not mean that every student evaluation needs to be glowing, but we are looking for evidence that you have made a conscientious effort to ensure that students were intellectually engaged in your course and that they had ample opportunity and encouragement to participate in the discussions.

When can I start spending the grant? Around the beginning of each semester, the Freshman and Sophomore Seminar Program office sends a form to the Chair of each department sponsoring one or more seminars. If the Chair answers the questions on the form in such a way as to indicate that a given faculty member is eligible, the grant funds will be transferred to a departmental account specified by that department’s finance staff approximately midway through the semester in which the seminar is being offered. If you would like to begin spending the money before the semester starts, on course preparation or the like, you might have your department’s fiscal staff contact the program staff to verify that the funds are indeed pending transfer, and receive a fund number.

"Teaching a freshman seminar was a wonderful opportunity for me. I rarely get a chance for sustained interaction with freshmen, and my conversations with them have been very helpful to me, both in my role as associate dean and as someone who teaches a large undergraduate lecture class. I learned a lot about the challenges and aspirations of the freshmen — and in particular, received detailed feedback about how the University feels toward new students."
C. Greig Crysler, Professor of Architecture

News & Updates

"I have been teaching in this program on and off, maybe from day one. In my view, this program is one of the best things that Berkeley has to offer its students."
F. Alberto Grünbaum, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics
Six faculty members smiling
Recipients of the Freshman and Sophomore Seminar Gold Award, for faculty who have taught over 20 seminars, at a reception and award ceremony at the Alumni House Toll Room on February 2, 2009. Left to right: Philip T. Spieth, George W. Chang, Benson Tongue, Roy L. Caldwell, David Wright, David L. Wood.