Class helps first-time students ease into the university experience

Making the transition from high school to a major university can be challenging, intimidating and exciting – all at the same time.

Each year, there are previous first-year students who do not return for a second year. One of the frequent reasons is due to their inability to handle university life.

For more than 3,500 students, this year the university experience will be a new one. As freshmen quickly see the difference between the narrow halls of high school and the grand atmosphere of college, it may be an overwhelming feeling. However, USF has sought a way to reduce the pressures of college life for first-year students by developing a class to ease the transition into this critical period.

The course is called University Experience and is designed to help students maximize the benefits of their years at the university. Learning about new surroundings and how to utilize the tools of USF through research projects and group-style discussions can help increase a student’s chances of successfully graduating from college. This course is not mandatory for graduation, but it is highly recommended by previous students, instructors and various faculty and staff.

According to Marie Austin, director of the program, in less than four years the enrollment of the class increased more than 300 percent, and in the fall there will be more than 62 sections.While other schools, such as the University of Florida, offer a similar course, it is much smaller. According to Austin, USF’s program has documented research that reveals students who take the course have a higher GPA and are more inclined to graduate and maximize the benefits of their university years, compared to those who do not enroll.

Professor Thomas Porter said the focus of University Experience courses is to help students become active.”Probably the most important thing that I have heard students say about UE is that this course helped them to make a connection to USF, faculty and peers,” Porter said. “That is a key factor to a successful first-year program – making the connection in order to retain the student. If they do not feel connected, they leave.”

University Experience is taught by deans, professors, vice presidents, advisers, faculty and staff who have received special training to assist students in planning their education, as well as tackling the demands of the undergraduate studies to reach the ultimate goal of receiving a baccalaureate degree.

With more than 20 years of experience in university education and administration, Porter decided to construct a Web page about the course. The page gives students an insight into what the course can offer, such as past year’s syllabi, the course objectives and how previous students performed in the class.

Along with learning about the benefits of college, the instructors also hope to form a special bond with the students.

“I want the students to take with them a sense of wonder; wonder about learning, wonder about the university,” Porter said. “I also hope they gain some specific knowledge and skills about surviving.”

Often known as the “student success” course, this program has been a big hit with past first-year students. Many found the class to motivating as well as supportive.

Kristin McCrary, a sophomore who took the class, said she transferred from a community college and wasn’t sure what to expect as far as professors and classroom atmosphere at a university level were concerned.

“I feel that it opened the door of what to expect from a big university,” McCrary said. ” I felt as if I was being personally welcomed to the school.”

The two-credit course offers seminar-style class structure and small group discussions about the academic qualities needed to succeed at the college level.

The course outline is meant to integrate the experience of university life with the lessons of a normal classroom. Two common assignments are interviewing the professor and surviving financially.

The professor interviewing serves several purposes, such as encouraging students to get to know the professors as more than people who stand in front of a classroom. It also increases skills so students can get the information needed to succeed. Furthermore, it develops a further sense of what the university is about from the perspective of a faculty member.Surviving financially also serves more than one purpose. For example, the course helps students understand how to manage the amount of money needed for basic living each month.

“As a new student, it’s nice to know that there is a course designed to help first-year students such as myself to succeed in college,” freshman Adriana Chin said. “College brings new demands that can be difficult for freshmen to grasp in such a short amount of time, (and) this course seems to give a sense of guidance and support.”

UE meets once a week for about two hours. Like any other class, students will be expected to attend the sessions and do the assignments to pass with a satisfying grade.

“There are usually two kinds of students in this class: those who really need it and have been ‘persuaded’ to take it, and those who don’t really need it, but want an extra edge for success,” Porter said. “Both benefit, but for different reasons and in different ways.”

Contact Michelle Alfordat