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First-Year Seminar Students Get a Colorado Welcome With a Trip to the Mountains

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Nicole Militello

Senior Media Relations Specialist

Nicole Militello

Justin Beach

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The University of Denver’s campus bursts with new energy as the Class of 2023 settles in. With the excitement of the students’ newly found independence comes the anticipation of the unfamiliar chapter that lies ahead—especially since a majority of DU’s freshmen are calling Denver home for the first time.

But nothing says “Welcome to Colorado” like the crisp mountain air, a Beau Jo’s pizza and the breathtaking view from 10,000 feet. And nothing says “Welcome to DU” like an academic adventure at the University’s High-Altitude Research Lab. That’s how professor Lawrence Berliner’s first-year seminar (FSEM) kicked off the school year.

FSEM students hike around Echo Lake
FSEM students at Echo Lake

“I’m from Chicago, which is very flat,” student Zoe Bibik said, taking in the view surrounding her at Mount Evans. “I’ve just been looking around constantly. It’s so gorgeous here.”

Every first-year student at DU has the important task of joining an FSEM. The classes are designed to ease the transition into college by introducing students to the rigorous classwork at the university level. Just as important, they equip each student with a home base and mentor for the first year. But it’s not your average class. FSEMs are designed to push students out of their comfort zone and deep into an interesting topic through 80 class offerings like “The Science of Happiness” and “Wrongful Conviction.”

The group taking Berliner’s class radiates ambition. Their majors range all across the disciplines and programs, from the Daniels College of Business to the Lamont School of Music. Their FSEM is “Bioethics in Politics & Medicine; Politics & The Nobel Peace Prize.”

“I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone,” Bibik said about her FSEM choice. “This isn’t something I would normally take. I like the idea that we automatically get some friends from this.”  

DU's High-Altitude Research Station
DU's High-Altitude Research Station

Since Berliner’s FSEM class comes almost entirely from outside Denver’s metro area, he wanted to give them a Colorado welcome with a relaxing trip to the mountains before school officially kicks off. During the first quarter, his class will take on a range of tough topics — everything from the ethics around transplants to physician-assisted suicide and lethal injections in prisons.

“We can really discuss a lot of subjects openly, and the freshmen are really open to anything,” Berliner said of the FSEM experience.  

For the field trip, Berliner sets aside the heavy topics and turns into an experienced tour guide, entertaining his class with a wealth of knowledge—and even some jokes.  

After driving past The Fort restaurant, seeing the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre and making their way through windy mountain roads, the class stopped at Echo Lake Lodge on Mount Evans. They spent the afternoon hiking around the lake, sharing stories of their first week of college over lunch and exploring DU’s High-Altitude Research Station—a set of cabins tucked away in the trees where DU's academic groups conduct field research.

“Seeing parts of Colorado and relaxing is really important,” Berliner said. “I hope they decide to come back here. When I hear on a Monday that this is where they went on the weekend, then we did something right.”

The day finished with a trip to a Colorado staple, Beau Jo’s pizza in Idaho Springs, and a stop at Buffalo Bill’s grave in Golden.

Professor Berliner's FSEM class
Professor Berliner's FSEM class

After a day of exploring their new home, the students say they are ready to tackle their first quarter at DU. Ethan Schwartz from the Washington, D.C., area is excited for the classroom challenges ahead.  

“It’s really good for people to have sort of a homeroom for their first quarter at DU,” Schwartz said. “It provides a space for transition from a high school student to an undergraduate student. It’s been great. I love the group.”

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