Hundreds of colleges have emulated Harry Potter movies by starting Quidditch teams, but here at St. Lawrence University, we've taken things a bit further.
The First-Year Program (FYP) at St. Lawrence, in Canton, N.Y. , is one of the oldest and most comprehensive living/learning programs for first-year students in the country. St. Lawrence was and continues to be at the forefront of helping students make the social and academic transition from high school to college.
Nine years ago, St. Lawrence faculty and staff created the First-Year Cup (FYC) to encourage students to create relationships and communities. Recognizing the popularity of the Harry Potter stories with this generation of college students, the program began a competition inspired, in part, by the series.
Just as the houses at Hogwarts are the living and learning communities for their students, so too are the residential "colleges" at St. Lawrence. Competition for the First-Year Cup occurs throughout the year between the colleges, for participation in a wide variety of intellectual and co-curricular activities.
In the Harry Potter stories, the four houses of Hogwarts compete against each other to win the House Cup at the end of each school year. The houses compete throughout the school year by earning and losing points for various activities. For example, a house would gain points if a student answers correctly a question in class, and would lose points for being late to class. The houses also compete against one another for the Quidditch Cup, which involves sporting events.
To win the First-Year Cup at St. Lawrence, students in a residential college must be more actively engaged in campus activities than students in the other colleges. For example, students were recently invited to a Culture of the Americas program where poems will be read in the indigenous languages spoken, and students will be invited to read their own poems or selections by their favorite poet, and in the language they choose. Others include lectures, performances, service events and exhibitions. Event organizers on campus may apply to have events deemed eligible for First-Year Cup points.
Several years ago, when I was associate dean of the first year, a wellness initiative inspired the Harry Potter idea. We decided it was more constructive to reward students for getting involved on campus in activities that don't involve alcohol and that would help them establish more constructive friendships and interactions.
Just like the teachers and prefects in the Harry Potter stories, the residential staff and faculty at St. Lawrence work together to help build a community in which students can develop friendships and succeed academically. Among the program's goals are the development of writing, speaking and research skills needed in college and beyond.
The First-Year Cup Festival at the start of the year resembles competition for the Quidditch Cup, because it does involve some sporting events. And our students have embraced the festival beyond our initial expectations, with an excitement not unlike Quidditch competition.
The First-Year Cup Festival events include volleyball, basketball and tug-of-war competitions, but also scavenger hunts, a banner competition, an alma mater-singing contest and other activities, all of which count toward First-Year Cup points, tallied at the end of the year. The college that wins the cup wins a prize, typically a day trip to Canada's national capital, Ottawa, that's about 90 minutes from the St. Lawrence campus.
We're pleased with how engaged our first-year students become through this introduction to all that there is to do at our University. And tickled that our informal Quidditch team recently beat Ottawa's Carleton University team in a tournament.