First Year Seminars and Experiences
Some of the primary reasons to organize a first-year or “freshman” experience are to help students with the often jarring transition from high school to college. This can be an opportunity for students to form lasting friendships with other students who can then act as a social and academic support system. College life can be difficult especially for first-generation students and students not living at home, which can put them at particular risk for struggling in classes, experiencing anxiety and dropping out. There are several versions of first-year experiences. They could be a summer program that bring incoming freshman together with faculty and staff for a few days with follow-ups during the semester. They could be a single-semester or single-year 1-unit course were small groups of students meet with a faculty and staff to talk about the college experience emphasizing time-management, study habits, available resources, advising and ways to seek academic, financial and psychosocial assistance. These could be campus-wide, college or departmental-specific programs. A more ambitious first-year experience is where a limited number of students take most of their freshman courses together as cohort. Student cohorts are considered a strong high-impact practice, though they take a good deal effort in their organization and cooperation from different departments in arranging student course schedules. In a cohort first-year experience, a theme is often chosen to tie courses together, and faculty collaborate to create content around the theme and develop cross-course assignments. This team of faculty members meet in the summer to create collaborative assignments and course material, and meet during the year discuss specific students showing signs of difficulty.
Ways to Strengthen
High quality first-year experiences place strong emphasis on critical thinking, information literacy, and collaborative learning (Kuh, 2008). First year experiences should have students in small groups working on projects and activities to foster peer-to-peer connections. Faculty can also connect more easily with students in small groups enabling greater awareness of individual student progress. The theme of a first year experience can be centered around the high-impact practice of diversity, equity, or global awareness. Several first year experience programs use a common reader that can promote the high-impact practice of common experiences. Again books are often chosen that address issues related to cultural diversity. For example, the University of Delware chose, When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka and the University of Central Florida chose, Outcast United by Warren St. John.