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Salman Rushdie.

Author Salman Rushdie spoke to an English honors class last spring.

Small and intimate

U gives students the chance for in-depth study in a small group setting

From M, fall 2006

The transition from high school to college is a tough one. But the University of Minnesota offers students many ways to make that first year at the U less overwhelming. The freshman and honors seminars, for example, transform the nearly 50,000-student University into smaller communities. Associate vice provost Laura Coffin Koch, who has researched the effect of freshmen seminars on students, has found that students who take the small-fewer than 20 students per class-discussion-based courses have a higher retention rate and stronger grade point average than those who don't.

Tenured or tenure-track professors teach the freshman seminars, usually on topics of their own choosing. The selection this fall includes "Race Relations in the U.S.," "Mothers," "Hong Kong Film," "Adoption: Imagined and Experienced" and "American Indian Celebrities from Pocahontas to the Present." Faculty members or graduate students, on the other hand, teach honors courses, and most of these courses, which demand more independent research, are accelerated or cover material in greater depth. Last spring, students in English graduate student Madhurima Chakraborty's "Honors Book Discussion: Salman Rushdie" got a real treat: The master himself showed up to speak to the class prior to an evening lecture at Northrop Auditorium. Now that's an honor.