Welcome to life as a college student! Right from the first day, First Year Seminar helps you meet other students, connect with faculty members, and become part of the Elms community.

First Year Seminar (FYS) will empower you to make the most of your education here at Elms. With your instructor as a guide and mentor, you and your peers will explore important topics, frame critical questions, and seek just solutions. Through special programming, in-class discussions, and campus-wide events, you will become an active member of the Elms College community.

Common Read

First Year Seminar courses are connected by a theme taken from Catholic Social Teaching. This year’s theme is Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, and through the power of sharing our stories, we will see the value we each bring to our community.

All first year students will read the Common Read book, Born A Crime, by Trevor Noah, during the fall semester. You will discuss and write about the book in your First Year Seminar class, highlighting how the themes are interwoven with the Catholic Social Teaching.

We hope you are excited to begin exploring how you can actively make a difference. Books may be purchased in the Elms College bookstore.

Cover image of 2020 First Year Seminar book Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime."

Born a Crime is Trevor Noah’s personal account of growing up in South Africa, well before achieving fame as the second host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. His mother was black, his father was white, and at the time, his birth was considered a crime according to apartheid law. Because of this, he spent much of his early childhood indoors, while being raised by his mother and grandmother. He rarely saw his father.

His mother, Patricia, made sure that Trevor attended school, even though he lived in a world of poverty, violence, oppression, and domestic violence. She gave Trevor the opportunities to succeed that she did not receive in her life. Her emphasis on learning gave him a pathway to overcome obstacles and self-doubt.

For first-year college students, Born a Crime offers lessons in sharing stories to connect, finding strength to overcome obstacles, and creating conditions for justice in our world out of God’s call to love our human family.  Set against the societal ravages of apartheid, Born a Crime is sometimes funny, shocking, and poignant. It aligns with the CST theme of ‘option for the poor,’ by demonstrating that the deprivation and powerlessness of people who are economically poor wounds the whole community. The resilience and support Trevor received from his mother and family amidst the utter hardship of apartheid is inspiring and gets to the heart of the CST theme, that every person should be able to be an active participant in society.

All first-year students are required to complete the Common Read book, and engage in writing and discussion during the First Year Seminar class; beyond First Year Seminar, the selection also is used in upper-level courses to enrich discussion and encourage inquiry. Throughout the academic year, the college will hold related events, from panel discussions and community exploration to presentations from invited speakers.

Books may be purchased in the Elms College bookstore.

First Year Seminar Instructors

  • Jill Bigos, M.S.


    Jill Bigos received her master’s degree in forensic science. Her interests include the forensic applications of biochemistry and the expansion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education for undergraduates. Her research projects have included work on tadpole metamorphosis and histology. She currently teaches anatomy & physiology for undergraduate nursing majors, as well as forensic science. She is also involved in various STEM outreach initiatives for local students in middle school and high school.

    Jill Bigos fys profile photo
  • Amanda Garcia, MSA, CPA, CFP


    Amanda Garcia, MSA, CPA is the director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and assistant professor of accounting at Elms College. Amanda earned her B.A. in accounting from Elms College and her Master of Science in accounting (MSA) at Western New England University. Amanda teaches in the disciplines of accounting, finance and economics. She has owned a tax and consulting business for over 10 years, which focuses on tax planning for individuals and small businesses. She specializes in small business, rental properties and individuals with investments seeking tax planning strategies. She is also passionate about financial education. She is a 2010 Business West 40 under 40 awardee and finalist for the 2016 Business West Continued Excellence Award. Amanda serves as a volunteer for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, Young Professionals of Greater Springfield, and the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the MSCPA.

    Photo of Amanda Garcia, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership
  • William Gilbert, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, AADC


    William Gilbert has been a social worker for over 25 years as a clinician, administrator, and educator. He received his MSW from Boston College and his Ph.D. in social work from the University of Connecticut. He has worked at several social service agencies in Connecticut serving in both administrative and clinical positions, including 15 years in the addictions field. He also currently works at Griffin Counseling LLC as a private practice therapist. His dissertation was titled “Correlates of Recovery from Substance Use Disorders.” His primary research interest is the investigation of factors affecting recovery from substance use disorders. He is married with three adult children and three dogs.

    Staff photo of William Gilbert, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, AADC
  • Michael McGravey, Ph.D.


    Dr. McGravey earned his doctorate in systematic theology from Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, PA). He holds a master’s degree in theology and religious studies from Villanova University and a bachelor’s from Gannon University. Prior to his experience at Duquesne, he served as a member of the Religious Studies department at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia. His dissertation explored the connections between post-secularism, Continental Philosophy, and ecclesiology, relying on the philosophical writings of Jean-Luc Marion and Gianni Vattimo. Michael has published several book reviews in the field of religious studies and political theology.

    Photo of Michael McGravey, Ph.D.
  • Laura McNeil, Ph.D.


    Laura McNeil is the director of the Honors Scholar Program and an associate professor of history at Elms College. She received her B.A. from Hampshire College and her Ph.D. in history from Boston College. She offers survey courses in European and world history, and upper-level courses in her areas of specialization, modern Ireland and Britain. She enjoys travel and good food. As such, she has led study-abroad trips to Ireland and Italy, and enjoys offering unusual experiential-learning classes, most notably HIS250: “A Taste of Freedom,” a historical and culinary exploration of the American immigration experience.

    Laura McNeil Headshot
  • Caroline Murray, J.D.


    In addition to being a practicing local attorney and full-time instructor, Professor Murray coordinates the criminal justice and legal studies internships. She has international training in law as well as a strong background in business management. Professor Murray is active in local government and the community through her association with the St. Thomas More Society, Junior Achievement, the American Bar Association, the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Hampden County Bar Association, the West Springfield Rotary Club, the West Springfield Council on Aging, the West Springfield Community Preservation Committee, Holyoke Community College advisory board, and the Putnam Vocational Technical High School criminal justice advisory board.

    Caroline Murray Headshot
  • Rob Southall, MPE


    Rob Southall serves as the assistant athletic director and head men’s basketball coach at Elms College. He earned his master’s in physical education and bachelor’s in movement studies from Springfield College. He currently serves as the national chair representative for the New England NCAA basketball regional advisory committee. Prior to his employment at Elms, he served as a lecturer of physical education at Springfield College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

    Staff photo of Rob Southall, MPE
  • Michael Wysocki


    Mike Wysocki is the head coach of the men’s soccer team and teaches sports management at Elms College. He received his bachelor’s in business administration from Western New England University (WNEU) in 2013 and earned his juris doctor with a business law concentration from the WNEU School of Law. He holds a USSF D license and served as the assistant coach to the women’s soccer team at Elms prior to becoming the men’s soccer head coach in 2017. He also works with the Center for Student Success as an academic coach to help many students achieve their academic potential here at the college.

    Portrait of Michael Wysocki