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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee is offering numerous events over the next week to welcome freshmen to campus and help them adjust to college life.

Members of the Class of 2011 begin to move into the residence halls this weekend, and Welcome Week kicks off with events Saturday. The first day of class is Aug. 22.

From the provost to distinguished scientists, top faculty and administrators are teaching new seminars for freshmen on topics ranging from punk rock to Mars and Harry Potter to chocolate.

New this year is a program called Light the Torch, a series of events and classes aimed at helping freshmen engage in campus life early in their college careers and improve their likelihood for graduation.

Experts believe the best way to keep more students in school is to make a big university seem smaller, and that is what Welcome Week and Light the Torch are all about.

“Students integrated into the life of the university develop a loyalty to the school, and are thus more likely to stay and to graduate from UT. Light the Torch aims to begin that integration quickly by helping students find their classrooms, introducing them to their academic colleges and offering them sessions on how to succeed in the courses most freshmen take at UT,” Vice Provost Todd Diacon said.

Light the Torch is part of a comprehensive effort to improve retention. At UT, 81.7 percent of freshmen stay to become sophomores. Students who leave have a drastically lower chance of eventually earning a degree. The UT Student Success Center surveyed students who left after their first semester and found the students believed UT was too big, and they had trouble adjusting and fitting in and felt homesick.

Light the Torch goes beyond the first week of classes and includes First Year Studies 101 and the new First Year Studies 129 seminars, which are small one-credit courses to balance the sometimes large-enrollment 100-level classes.

• First Year Studies 101 are graded seminars capped at 25 students each and teach students how to connect with the university, develop academic success strategies, choose a major and discuss career options.

• First Year Studies 129 also are small classes, most capped at 18 students, and offer an array of 52 topics chosen by the tenured or tenure-track faculty teaching them. Students receive a credit or no-credit grade.

Provost Robert Holub created the 129 concept, and he is teaching Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil.” Diacon is teaching a course on race in Brazil, and Terrell Strayhorn, special assistant to the provost, is teaching about campus traditions and events in “What Would Martians Say About Us?”

Hap McSween, distinguished professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences and an active participant in several Mars spacecraft missions, will teach students about the Mars rovers and the photographs they have taken of the planet’s surface.

“These seminars will bring students into close contact with faculty members in their initial year, which will introduce them to the excitement of learning in higher education,” Holub said.

For a complete list of FYS 129 courses, visit

Light the Torch activities during Welcome Week include:

• Passport to Success — First-year students can win prizes when they turn in their “Passport to Success” full of stamps they received when finding their classrooms. The classrooms are open from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 19.

• College Open Houses — Undergraduate colleges introduce students to the classes offered, special programs, personnel and support services. Students without a major are invited to the Undecided University Student Open House. The events are from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 19.

• How to Succeed sessions — These 20-minute sessions run on a recurring basis between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Aug. 20 and Aug. 21 in HSS 123 and 60 and the Art & Architecture auditorium. Faculty and upperclassmen discuss succeeding in 100-level courses such as chemistry, biology, psychology and math.

• Life of the Mind sessions — All incoming students were asked to read Norman Cantor’s “In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made.” Group discussions of the book are held Aug. 20 and Aug. 21.

For more information about Light the Torch, visit


Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179,