My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student [NOOK Book]

Overview

After fifteen years of teaching anthropology at a large university, Rebekah Nathan had become baffled by her own students. Their strange behavior—eating meals at their desks, not completing reading assignments, remaining silent through class discussions—made her feel as if she were dealing with a completely foreign culture. So Nathan decided to do what anthropologists do when confused by a different culture: Go live with them. She enrolled as a freshman, moved into the dorm, ate in the dining hall, and took a ...
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My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

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Overview

After fifteen years of teaching anthropology at a large university, Rebekah Nathan had become baffled by her own students. Their strange behavior—eating meals at their desks, not completing reading assignments, remaining silent through class discussions—made her feel as if she were dealing with a completely foreign culture. So Nathan decided to do what anthropologists do when confused by a different culture: Go live with them. She enrolled as a freshman, moved into the dorm, ate in the dining hall, and took a full load of courses. And she came to understand that being a student is a pretty difficult job, too. Her discoveries about contemporary undergraduate culture are surprising and her observations are invaluable, making My Freshman Year essential reading for students, parents, faculty, and anyone interested in educational policy.



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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In her mid-fifties, the author (Rebekah Nathan is a pseudonym) registered as a freshman and moved into a dorm, concealing her identity as an anthropology professor on leave from the very same state university (identified as "Any U"). Her intent: to use her expertise in ethnographic fieldwork to better understand today's undergraduates. Only a few administrators were in on her project. Nathan undertook both participant-observer research and formal data collection via interviews. She always identified herself as a researcher and found it remarkable that students did not probe her further, as she had a strict policy of "tell if they ask." Her research brought forth three defining aspects of student life-choice, individualism, and materialism-and found that university efforts to build community among the freshmen were largely unsuccessful. In addition, the author learned why many students find cheating an acceptable response to managing tight schedules and gained insights into the nature of the informal conversations students have about their professors and courses. In the end, she offers a good understanding of the current generation of college students and the broader culture from which they have emerged. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Jean Caspers, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Nathan's research brought forth three defining aspects of student life—choice, individualism, and materialism—and found that university efforts to build community among the freshmen were largely unsuccessful. In addition, the author learned why many students find cheating an acceptable response to managing tight schedules and gained insights into the nature of the informal conversations students have about their professors and courses. In the end, she offers a good understanding of the current generation of college students and the broader culture from which they have emerged."—Library Journal, August 2005

"Nathan said she wishes other professors would at least be more curious about the people they're teaching. . . . Understanding the enormous gap between student and faculty values has prompted Nathan to be more inventive about the way she presents things in class. 'I would have preferred less noise, drama, throwing up, but it made me a better professor,' she says. 'If kids have to sleep through lectures, I understand. At this point, it'd be pretty hard for me to feel alienated."—Rachel Aviv, 'Undercover Mother,' The Village Voice, August 2, 2005

"Professors often complain about their students, and Rebekah Nathan used to grumble with the best of them. During lunches with colleagues, the anthropology professor would lament the intellectual malaise she saw among her pupils: how they refused to participate in class discussions, rarely read assigned texts, and seldom came to her during office hours. . . . So the cultural anthropologist decided to step outside the classroom and do some fieldwork. In the fall of 2002 Ms. Nathan enrolled as a full-time undergraduate student at the large public university where she teaches. . . . Ms. Nathan learned that being a student in the 21st century is tougher than she had imagined. After two semesters of scrambling from class to class, juggling assignments, and cramming for examinations, she had more compassion for time-crunched students, many of whom worked part-time jobs to help pay for their education."—'Getting Schooled in Student Life,' The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 29, 2005

"For years, anthropologist Rebekah Nathan studied life in a remote Third World village between stints of teaching at a big state university. But after years as a professor, she felt disconnected from her students. Why did so few do the assigned readings' Who told them it was OK to eat in class' To answer these questions, Nathan, who's in her 50s, enrolled as a freshman, moved into a dormitory and used her anthropology skills to study the tribal rituals of undergrads. . . . The main lesson: time-management skills are key. She saw how profs' office hours often conflicted with her other classes. Deciding which reading assignments to skip was a necessary survival tactic. "I didn't really remember what it took to do this," says Nathan, who pulled mostly B's."—Newsweek, August 22, 2005

"Nathan is most compelling when relating her own preconceptions as a professor to her new life as a student. From scheduling constraints, to riding the bus system, to balancing difficult required courses with easier electives, the realities of being a college student surprise Nathan and will be a welcome reminder to many readers. . . . While the books presents a portrait of today's student in which classes often take a back seat to socializing, jobs, and extracurricular involvement, Nathan's experience reminds the rest of us to be compassionate. In their shoes, we would be the same way."—Cedar Riener, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2006

"This volume is a page-turner from beginning to end. Rebekah Nathan reveals how little intellectual life matters in college and explores the lives of students who are enveloped by notions of individualism, choice, and materialism. Traversing topics as far ranging as friendship, social life, engagement in university classrooms, dorm life, and the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities as well as those of an increasingly growing number of international students, Nathan uses her well-honed anthropological skills to study the 'university as village.' Faculty, students, and parents alike will find this volume illuminating as we get 'up close and personal' with those undergraduates who attend our large state institutions."—Lois Weis, author of Class Reunion: The Remaking of the American White Working Class

"This is an outstanding book, one of the most important books I've read in this century, and I know it will transform and inspire my teaching and writing. Rebekah Nathan's project—to go undercover as a college student, living in a dorm—is bold and intriguing, especially for a woman anthropologist in her fifties. She comes back with a fascinating story of students who are frazzled but astute at working the system in a world that's invisible to most university faculty. This memoir reveals secrets and solves many a mystery, such as—Why do so many students ignore reading assignments? Why are Friday classes usually disasters? What makes students reluctant to take part in class discussion? Why don't most college students discuss ideas outside of class? And how are international students surprised and sometimes horrified by the behavior of American undergraduates? This book is notable for its ethical treatment of confidential subjects, such as drunkenness and cheating. Nathan is a fine storyteller, and her descriptions of Student Development people's efforts to 'create community' in the university are both funny and sad. My Freshman Year is funny, sad, true, eye-opening, and sometimes mind-boggling. If I knew the author, I would congratulate her with great warmth and enthusiasm."—Emily Toth, Louisiana State University, author,"Ms. Mentor" column and ten books including Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia, Unveiling Kate Chopin, and Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious

"My Freshman Year is unpretentious and yet full of insights and sharp observations. It is novel, spare, and speaks (delightfully) to many interests. Rebekah Nathan's careful fieldwork and savvy topical selection provide a moving and important take on American college life."—John Van Maanen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"The first thing to say about this book is that there are very few books like it. The author's account of living in the dorm and taking classes on a campus where she had worked as a professor for many years is fascinating. From her experience enrolled as a freshman and through her anthropological lens, we learn how different the world of students is from what professors imagine it to be. I think anyone with an interest in undergraduate life—whether in academe or not—will want to read it and will enjoy it."—Margaret Eisenhart, University Distinguished Professor and Charles Chair of Education, University of Colorado at Boulder

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101042502
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 7/25/2006
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 165,184
  • File size: 361 KB

Meet the Author

Rebekah Nathan is a pseudonym for Cathy Small. She has been a professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University for fifteen years.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii
1 Welcome to "AnyU" 1
2 Life in the Dorms 19
3 Community and Diversity 41
4 As Others See Us 67
5 Academically Speaking... 90
6 The Art of College Management 107
7 Lessons from My Year as a Freshman 132
Afterword: Ethics and Ethnography 158
Notes 169
References 177
Index 181
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Really?! I don't believe it.

    I bought this book and started it with excitement, but the excitement waned as I was disappointed in that the 'undercover' prof sneaked home whenever she couldn't take being a student any longer. I also thought her observations were standoffish and she really didn't participate as a real student might. Having been a freshman in my50's, I know. If Small would have been really wanting to get to know her students better, she most likely would have really, really enjoyed as a new experience and not as a comparison to her own college life as a young adult. Perhaps she should have signed up for a full load, done the homework with other kids, seen and felt the struggles of new information, etc.

    I didn't care for the book simply because I didn't think Small immersed herself into all aspects but this could be because she just didn't have the thrill of being in her 50's and doing something she never thought she would ever do. Perhaps she should have observed someone experiencing all this for the first time, without preconceived (subconscious, perhaps) ideas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2008

    Ethnographic research of undergraduate college students

    My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan is an acclaimed piece of work which gives the outside perspective of undergraduate college life and cultural manifestations. A professor at her university, using the pseudonym of AnyU, Nathan undergoes an ethnographic research of undergraduate lifestyle by enrolling as an incoming freshman. Part taking in various activities along with freshman students submerges the author into a world and culture that delves deeper than what appears on the surface-a culture that shapes the undergraduate mentality and living. As a current undergraduate student, I found this novel to be fairly relative and thought provoking reading from a foreign point of view. Nathan does a brilliant job transitioning different regions of research-ranging from dorm life, time management, international students, ethnic segregation-to fully understand the molding of undergraduate culture. Each section of different topics are detailed with analyses and observations that point out the affects that they may have on students and their lives in college and attitudes toward academic achievement. I especially enjoyed the bit about class registration because although it may be second nature to me, reading it from someone who had no prior knowledge about such methods made me laugh. I would recommend this book to any current undergraduate freshman attending any college or university who is lacking academic motivation. However, reading along the book gave me the impression that all undergraduate students were masked in this cultural generation of rebellion. I don¿t recall the author providing any demographic background and sociological factors that may have tied within the student body. Seeing that the university was located in a predominantly white area, it would be interesting to contrast her findings with that of an ethnically diverse campus. Taking into account of culture, socioeconomic status, ¿class background¿ are some things that would have definitely made the book more intriguing. Either way, a very stimulating and easy read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2008

    My Freshman Year Review

    I thought that My Freshman Year was a good book on the basis of what college life is like through the eyes of a teacher. The author Rebekah did a great job of observing student life and what really happens after classes are over. Since I am a student myself, I felt that book was too much in detail and it did not surprise me to see what she had gone through and experienced with other students. There is an excellent analysis of international students and American student¿s behavior of college along with what freshman students care about more in school such as relationships, sex and personal experiences. Rebekah gives an in depth look of how college students communicate and the way they balance between classes and social life. Her findings throughout the book are interesting and she makes the reader feel as if they are there in college with her experiencing what she has gone through. Rebekah is a descriptive writer, in which the book is mostly consisted of. I would say that the book keeps you interested in the beginning, but once toward the end it is mostly consisted of analysis, research data and commentary. This book can be thought of more of a research paper then story. I would recommend this book to older adults, parents or teachers that are curious about college life whether they have gone or not. Also, for people who have not had the experience of college dorm life, this is an excellent book of how living on one self is experienced.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2008

    pretty true to real college life

    In the published ethnography My Freshman Year, author Rebekah Nathan describes her findings about the practices, priorities, and attitudes of the new generation college freshmen. Her detailed observations are fascinating, although they may be quite obvious to college students that have been freshman in the recent past. Her study offers insight for all those who are unaware about the behavior of college freshman: why they don¿t seem to take their classes as seriously as before, what freshman girls talk about in their intimate conversations, who eats with whom in the dining center, and the honest answers and opinions she receives from her one-on-one interviews Nathan¿s primary research method was observation, but she also interviewed a wide range of students, and posted questions in the girls¿ bathroom for them to respond to anonymously. Living in the dormitories, Nathan found that the cultural norm of students was one of sociability, individualism, fun, craziness, freethinking spontaneity, and rebellion against authority. This observation contrasted starkly with the formal culture of the college, which stressed advice, academics, and warnings. In regards to student academic life, she noticed that students planned and organized their class schedules and extracurricular activities around what was most important to them. For example, they may have scheduled their classes a certain way in order to make room for a club or organization that was a top priority. Further, she observed with some surprise that students would sometimes ditch class in favor of catching some much needed sleep, completing work for another class, or attending an important extracurricular event. This ¿prioritizing¿ was in accordance with the strongly held value of free choice and fierce individualism. According to Nathan¿s observations, community life in the dorms was almost non-existent due to students¿ individual schedules, which were a direct result of a plethora of choices. As a result, such a wide range of personal preferences of extracurriculars and classes were not conducive to a tight knit community in the dorms.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2008

    an enjoyable read

    My freshman year¿what a professor learned by becoming a student by Rebekah Nathan provides a systematic account of freshmen life in today¿s public university from several different angles. From classrooms to the dinning hall, from international students to dorm mates, this book unravels the many ¿isms¿ that characterize and shape first-year college students: individualism, materialism, ego-centrism, to name a few. The research is unique, as the author, a university professor, immersed herself in student life by becoming a college freshman herself. She moved into the college dorm, attended classes, befriended her classmates, while at the same time concealing her true identity. The ethnographic research method¿ participant observation¿ enabled the author to examine the topics in an objective manner. In addition, the book is interspersed with quotes from interviewees, adding richness and credibility to the research. Besides the detailed descriptive data, My freshman year also presents issues¿such as cheating¿ currently underlying American education. The multitude of the data colleted through interviews and experiences living among freshmen add interesting details to her observations. Furthermore, she substantiates her arguments with a wide range of statistics. Despite the richness of the data she collected, her analysis on most topics only scratches skin-deep. It does not have much original, thought-provoking analysis and conclusions. For instance, as an international student who is currently studying in the U.S., I don¿t think her book adds much to my perception of American students. Her conclusions on American college life merely reinforce the stereotypes about them that I once read in a U.S. survival guide while waiting for my visa in front of the American embassy in Beijing. Despite its shortcomings, this book is very well written and an enjoyable read.

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    Posted October 16, 2011

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    Posted May 29, 2011

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    Posted April 19, 2011

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