First Year Experience continues to evolve

by Ariana Babcock

Dr. Ocaña picked up a black dry erase marker and wrote three phrases on the white board for his students: “Anticipated. Used. Hope to cover.”

He then addressed the word “anticipated.” He asked his freshman students in class what their expectations were when signing up for the class.

“Boring,” one student laughed.

“Patronizing,” freshman Evan VanDenEinde said.

He then moved to the “used” category.

Students then began to list the useful information they’ve gained from the course. They said they’ve learned how to communicate with teachers, manage time and utilize campus services.

This is not their math, English, or science course. This is their mandatory First Year Experience class, which has been changing its syllabus and style over the years to help first year students feel more comfortable in their transition to college.

Freshman Evan VanDenEinde said though he was ready to leave home, this course helped him feel more familiar with the university.

“I think it’s a really good class just to get acquainted with the different aspects of everything that can help you in college,” he said.

In fall 2013, FYE started bringing one or two student orientation counselors into each classroom. VanDenEinde said he finds it helpful to have someone around his age to relate to.

“It’s definitely like a bridge,” VanDenEinde said. “It’s good to have a bridge because the SOC is a person who is going through, who recently went through, what you are going through right now.”

FYE’s past

In fall 2013, FYE was worth two credits, and students were able to choose if they wanted to take the in-person class or Health 122. Health 122 was an online class covering topics including alcohol and drug use. Interim Director of First Year Programs Julia Roland said this online option was not proving to be successful.

“50 percent of our freshman students failed because they didn’t even know how to get online to where the class was,” Roland said.

Associate Professor Debra DeMinck said one of the biggest improvements in FYE has been the addition of SOCs in the classroom.

“I would say that that is probably one of the very best things that we’ve added,” DeMinck said.

Paul Adams was a freshman in fall of 2013 and he remembers having an SOC in the classroom. He said having two SOCs in the classroom would be beneficial to future classes, as he thought it would nice to have more than one in the class when he was a freshman.

“They are around our age and they were just through college or they were still in college while we were so they were going through the same things as us so they can tell us how it is,” Adams said.

While Adams liked having a SOC in the classroom, he said he felt some of the topics covered in FYE were redundant.

“I felt like some of the stuff we learned I’ve already learned before in high school,” he said.

Roland said she was ready to have them sign off online and sign in to the classroom to meet people and make their college transition easier. FYE is designed to help students succeed by teaching them information they may not otherwise know, including university services.

“It’s really trying to get them just those really basic pieces, like how to register for classes, how to read your syllabus, kind of the softer skills and the stuff that helps make students successful that doesn’t involve learning about a subject,” Roland said.

FYE’s future

The FYE program provides opportunities like AfterDark, new student orientation, Dragon Welcome Week, and parent and family services. New student orientation is a mandatory event where freshmen come before the semester starts, register for classes and get acquainted with the services MSUM has to offer. Much like the orientation program, the FYE class aims to help students feel comfortable in their transition into college. Roland said she wants to continue and become even more involved with these classes.

“I wouldn’t supervise faculty, I would just help them understand this is an extended orientation,” Roland said. “I know it’s a class that’s required for academic credit and I am not in the academia world, but my expertise is in the development of first year students and that’s what this course really is.”

Roland said in the future, she hopes student affairs professionals get a chance to teach or get more involved with the class, as their expertise is in student development. She said she also hopes for an application process in the future for those interested in instructing the course.

“Tell me why you want to teach first year students and why you’d be good at it,” Roland said. “I know faculty are considered experts in first year students, but I don’t agree with that totally.”

DeMinck said that instructors can find sessions and have ideas what to do with the class on D2L. She added that instructors have the flexiblity to do their own thing, as long as they are meeting the course objectives associated with the topic for each week.

FYE’s present

DeMinck said throughout the semester they discuss topics such as homesickness, study skills, communication, sexual assault, drugs and alcohol, relationship issues and studying abroad.

They have required assignments everyone has to complete in FYE. This includes promoting sexual assault prevention on campus. DeMinck said students are given the option to attend the “Hancock” presentation on sexual assault prevention or the campus theatre production “Really Really,” and then write a reflection paper.

“What a great way to start out their college career by talking about such a nationally prominent and detrimental kind of a thing,” DeMinck said. “Especially given the fact that we had the two sexual assaults last year on campus.”

Ongoing improvements and adjustments

DeMinck said while the class has seen changes, starting as an elective in the early 2000s, becoming an online class, and now becoming a mandatory participatory class with SOCs, they are constantly trying to improve it. She said it’s really a retention tool to make first year students feel comfortable at MSUM and make them want to continue their education here.

The First Year Program is also going through some changes in faculty. Roland and two other finalists, Paul DeCock and Dauline Menze, are currently looking to fill the Director of First Year Programs position. The community was invited to attend their open forums last week. They are currently evaluating and reviewing each candidate before they announce the results.

“We’re assessing the effectiveness of the program and we’re looking at that very closely so that we’re continually improving the program to be appropriate for students and effective for students. We want them to see this as something that is really helpful even though it’s not strictly academic,” DeMinck said.

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