week of welcome

In Their Own Words: New Ducks Sample the FIGs

From animals to adhesives to DJ food stamp, students in First-year Interest Groups follow their fascinations and create community

Story and photos by Matt Cooper  October 4, 2023

6 min read

Take a trip to the Portland Zoo. Conquer your fear of public speaking. Become an apprentice anthropologist. Or learn what makes glue, well, glue.

For a first-year student at the University of Oregon seeking community (and credit hours), First-Year Interest Groups or FIGs are often where to start.

In each of these offerings that run fall term, first-years come together in small classes and a seminar connected by an overarching and imaginative topic. The FIGs help new Ducks acclimate quickly to campus academically and socially by connecting them with peers and faculty.

The breadth of FIGs is breathtaking—comic books and cross-cultural conversations, museum trips and media-mixing artwork, coffee expeditions and soccer with Special Olympics athletes, problem-solving, public speaking, virtual reality, the local music scene . . .

That’s just a taste of the fifty-plus interest groups. For more of the flavor, Oregon Quarterly caught up with six first-years in FIGs for a quick Q&A.

Shawn Angeles

Shawn Angeles

Major: Biology
Hometown: Napa, California
FIG: Make It Stick: The History and Chemistry of Adhesives Working with Adam Glass, instructor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, students explore chemical principles of binding agents and make creations.

Why this FIG? “My goal is to go pre-med so I want to build a community of students in the sciences. I looked at this and thought it’s for me—it’s like, who would make a topic like this?”

What’s your go-to adhesive? “Tape. With glue, if it’s the white bottle, it can take awhile to come out. But tape—when I’m decorating my room, putting up posters, you don’t have to punch a thumbtack through the wall, you just stick it on.”

How’d you do with high school chemistry? “I took advanced placement chemistry without having done general chemistry. I struggled but I pulled an A out. I don’t even know how I did it.”

Any words of wisdom for your FIG classmates? “When everyone struggles together and we all start to rely on each other, we’ll all stick together. Like glue.”

Skylar DeBose

Skylar DeBose

Major: Journalism
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
FIG: Hip Hop and the Politics of Race Working with André Sirois (aka DJ food stamp), senior instructor in cinema studies, students produce the UO Hip Hop Jam November 30.

Why this FIG? “Hip-hop has always been a huge part of my life. It’s been eye-opening for me how much culture is behind hip-hop and how it created community, especially for Black people.”

Favorite artist? “Kendrick Lamar. His lyrics stick out to me—he speaks a lot on Black issues, whether that’s Black celebration or Black struggle, he has a lot of constructive things to say.”

Are you ready to run a huge hip-hop event? “It’s really exciting! We’re going to bring in different artists—that’s the area I’m most interested in, learning about artists in the community.”

Ever have a teacher with a handle like “DJ food stamp”? “Uhh, no I haven’t. I can just tell by his name he has a lot of passion for what he does.”

If you had a DJ handle, what would it be? “DJ DaBoss.”

Kadence Gavin

Kadence Gavin

Major: Environmental science
Hometown: Aledo, Texas
FIG: Food Matters Through visits to restaurants, markets, food pantries, and gardens, students study food with sociocultural anthropologist Stephen Wooten to better understand challenges and opportunities for humanity.

Why this FIG? “There’s a lot of diversity in Texas—a lot of Asian and Mexican food but a lot of it is whitewashed—people think it’s culturally accurate but it’s not. I want to experience the real food being eaten outside of America.”

Any revelations? “Food is a community experience but eating alone—that seems like an American thing. Food tastes better when you’re enjoying it together.”

What do you think about getting college credit for eating in restaurants? “It’s really cool. I’ve never been here before so I get to try foods I’ve never had.”

Do you have a story about food? “Every single time I was sick, my mom cooked chicken noodle soup—she didn’t like prepackaged food, she always made chicken and dumplings, Southern food. When I’m sick I still go for the chicken noodle soup. It makes me happy.”

Jason Jackson

Jason Jackson

Major: Cinema studies
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
FIG: Speak for Yourself! Working with Tricia Rodley, career instructor in the Department of Theatre Arts, students practice public speaking and presentation using theater and voice methods.

Why this FIG? “I want to be a director and screenwriter. One of the main jobs is communicating to the cast and being able to rally them together to execute a creative idea. Public speaking is mandatory for that.”

Do you like public speaking? “No, but I perform under pressure. I try to concentrate on what I’m speaking about and not the eighty million eyes looking at me.”

One exercise was giving your worst most off-putting introduction—what did you do? “I said, ‘My name is Jason and I love Oregon State.’ You say that in Eugene and it’s like, whoa, a lot can happen to you.”

What do you hope to get out of the next ten weeks? “I hope to become more comfortable speaking in public settings, improve my conversation skills, and improve my listening skills. A big part of conversation is actually listening.”

Cooper Payne

Cooper Payne student

Major: Geography
Hometown: Austin, Texas
FIG: Animal Behavior Working with Frances White, a professor of biological anthropology, students examine our relationships with animals—including the ethical treatment of animals in captivity—and take a trip to the Portland Zoo.

Why this FIG? “I’ve always been interested in animals and this FIG has two science classes which fill my prerequisite [to study] anatomy.”

What’s your favorite animal? “Rockhopper penguin, they have really cool hair. You’ve seen the penguins with the yellow hair in Surf’s Up? They’re all over that movie.”

This FIG includes a trip to the Portland Zoo—any thoughts on ethics of zoos Professor White discussed? “I’ll be thinking about how they’re treating these animals, how they get them here, if the animals would rather be here or in the wild.”

How is this FIG helping you? “The FIG assistant showed us where our classrooms are, where our lecture halls are—it was really nice, especially at 8:30 in the morning, I’m not really awake. I’m going to get to know these people, ask questions about college. It’s like a club.”

Marisa Weigel

Marisa Weigel

Major: Human physiology
Hometown: Bellevue, Washington
FIG: The Problem with Problems Working with Randy Sullivan, senior instructor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, students learn the skills to tackle complex science and math problems.

Why this FIG? “I have never been good at math and chemistry but I want to pursue a job in the medical field. This looked right up my alley—I thrive in social settings where I’m working with other people.”

What’s your problem? “I have a problem with problems! In chemistry, things are going to move very quickly. I’m a little nervous about it. I don’t retain information well—learning how to actually study will be really nice.”

How’s the FIG going? “The class was amazing today! I never really thought about the way we process information, long-term memory, instances where we lose information, memorization, thinking about that loop. It’s super-interesting to me.”

Retain anything from today’s class? “Write problems down with pen and paper—don’t just use a computer. That really stuck with me. My mom always told me that.”


Matt Cooper is managing editor for Oregon Quarterly.