First-Year Studies was established in 1945, largely due to the efforts of President Nathan Marsh Pusey (1944-1953).

The Original Program

The original version of First-Year Studies was strikingly different from the "great books" courses being adopted on other campuses. In addition to classic works by Plato, Machiavelli, and Thoreau, the reading list included a film, The Ox-Bow Incident, starring Henry Fonda. The original version of the course also featured a laboratory component, requiring active participation in music, art, or creative writing.

The Evolution of First-Year Studies

  • 1945: Freshman Studies, today called First-year studies, was implemented into the curriculum. The course is taught over two terms, with students divided into small groups and taught by faculty from across the institution, focusing on encouraging intellectual curiosity in the liberal arts, as well as building skills in critical thinking and writing.
  • Late 1960s: First-Year Studies course scaled back.
  • 1975: First-Year Studies discontinued.
  • 1978: First-Year Studies re-instated.
  • 1986: First-Year Studies restored to something like its original scope.
  • 1997: First-Year Studies reviewed and extensively revised; faculty reaffirmed commitment and central purposes.
  • Early 2000s: Students were exposed to live professional productions of Shakespeare plays like Hamlet, Macbeth, and The Tempest; students performed musical works like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro.
  • 2001: Lawrence received a $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities; with donations, a $2.5 million endowment for First-Year Studies was created, named in honor of President Pusey.
  • 2023: A faculty task force reviewed the program in 2023-24 and recommitted to the original vision of the course as an introduction to liberal learning by engaging students with new ideas and viewpoints through close reading, class discussions, and writing. The changes below were also recommended.
    • A one-term thematic model (inaugural theme: “Water”) that includes varied works such as contemporary poetry, ancient manuscripts, historical narratives, environmental journalism, and music.
    • Several campus-wide events that unite the First-Year Community and support the theme, including musical performances, lectures by authors, and panel discussions by experts in the field.
    • A structured writing curriculum including frequent informal and formal writing and the creation of a writing portfolio.