September 16, 2021

Common Experience Encourages Critical Thinking, Connections

“We don’t need most of the fast-thinking system processes that were used thousands of years ago to survive,” said first-year student Bridget Zagrobelny (right), who learned from the PBS episode that autopilot thinking in modern life often results in mistakes and poor decisions. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

“We don’t need most of the fast-thinking system processes that were used thousands of years ago to survive,” said first-year student Bridget Zagrobelny (right), who learned from the PBS episode that autopilot thinking in modern life often results in mistakes and poor decisions. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Bridget Zagrobelny has heard that first impressions matter. But the University of Mary Washington freshman decided on a different strategy for making friends in college.

“We’re prone to judging others too quickly,” she said, “so it’s important to tap the brakes in our brains when we meet new people.”

She gained that insight after watching Living on Autopilot, an episode from the PBS Hacking Your Mind series exploring the mental processes at play in rational versus quick decision making, as part of this year’s Common Experience. Launched in 2015, this shared academic milestone gives incoming UMW first-year students the chance to engage in critical thinking and college-level discussions with professors, staff and peers as soon as they arrive on campus.

“We hope to challenge them to think about the material in new ways, learn about themselves and connect with their classmates,” said Assistant Professor of Biology April Wynn. As the First-Year Experience director, she oversees a variety of initiatives, including first-year seminars, living and learning communities, and peer mentorships, all designed to help freshmen successfully transition to life at Mary Washington. Read more.