November 18, 1999
Last fall, Lagniappe: The First-Year Experience rolled out the red carpet for freshmen with a diverse package of extracurricular activities designed to introduce them to New Orleans and Tulane. This fall, that red carpet rolls into the classroom as well.
First-Year Explorations is a new series of one-credit courses that combines compelling academic topics with issues crucial to students who are making the jump to college life. With enrollment limited to 16 students per section, the five First-Year Explorations courses emphasize group discussion and interactive learning.
"We really want to offer first-year students an exciting experience, one that engages them as individuals," says John Madison Fletcher Professor of Psychology Ed ONeal, who chaired the committee that developed the courses. "We want to provide an opportunity for them to make connections to the community that is Tulane."
Freshman transition courses are not new to academia. The University of South Carolina, whose transition program is recognized as a model for other universities, has offered a freshman seminar called University 101 since 1972. First-Year Explorations, however, differs from other programs in a number of respects.
For one thing, the focus is not on study skills, time management or personal development-the emphasis of South Carolina's program-but rather intellectual themes likely to strike a chord with incoming students.
Course topics range from a study of Anne Rice's historical novel Feast of All Saints, a look at the life of former Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long and an exploration of personal and communal transitions from a sociological perspective.
"The goal of this program is to introduce students to resources that they're going to need to be successful and to help them develop skills that will be useful in this kind of environment," says associate professor of psychology Terry Christenson, who is teaching a course titled Metacognition: Thinking About Thinking. "To me, thinking about your own thinking processes and being aware of how you're approaching material is a central feature in helping students realize what resources and skills are necessary."
A unique aspect of the courses is how they're being taught-by a pair of instructors comprising a full-time, senior faculty member and a staff member from the division of student affairs. According to ONeal, the expertise of student affairs workers in the developmental process of students naturally complements the subject-based knowledge and teaching skills of the faculty members.
"My role is to utilize the opportunity to expand further the topics of the course to relate to situations students will meet in their first year away from home," says Martha Sullivan, vice president for student affairs and co-instructor with professor of English James Kilroy in the course on Long. The goal is to use the literature in new ways.
"We're hoping that the co-instructors will learn from each other and the students will benefit from this," ONeal adds.
Associate dean of students Dan Nadler, who is co-teaching the course on Feast of All Saints, says that while student retention is not an explicit goal, the hope is that it will be one of the programs fringe benefits. The literature suggests that the first six weeks are the most critical when you look at whether or not a student is going to stay at an institution, Nadler says.
From an acclimation and adjustment standpoint, this gives us a great opportunity to work with students in very small learning environments and make them feel that theyre part of the institution. One of the things we hope happens is they begin to develop a sense of commitment to the institution, a sense that they belong here.
ONeal plans to expand the First-Year Explorations program to eight or nine sections next year before making an evaluation. If the program proves successful, ONeal says he hopes to make it a permanent part of the curriculum.
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