July 8, 2004
Mary Ann Travis
The first year of college has to be one of the greatest periods of adjustment in anyone's life. Bright, accomplished first-year students arrive every fall on the Tulane campus. Usually, they're from hometowns quite unlike New Orleans, and they leave behind structured high-school environments. They're ready to strike out on their own, eager to assume new personas. These students expect academic challenge--and they get it. They're also looking for friends.
A two-year-old program--Tulane Inter-Disciplinary Experiences (known as TIDES)--helps first-year students connect to Tulane and make friends while introducing them to a variety of fascinating subjects and seasoned faculty members.
Last fall, almost 700 first-year students, nearly half the entering class, participated in the program's one-credit courses on topics ranging from "World Cultures and Religion" and "Music and Culture of New Orleans" to "Cities and the Urban Environment."
The School of Engineering requires its first-year students to participate in courses related to engineering departments. And students who are planning to enter the A. B. Freeman School of Business in their junior year flocked to the "More Than Just Business" courses.
TIDES morphed from the Living/Learning Communities, a project initiated by a first-round Wall Fund grant of $250,000.
The Living/Learning Communities had the same objective as the new program, engaging students in campus life. The Living/Learning Communities, however, were linked to specific residence halls, and courses connected to the communities were limited to students living in those residence halls. So, just as students learn to adjust to college, administrators have adjusted this first-year program so that it reaches a greater number of students.
Funds remaining from the original Wall Fund grant have helped pay for TIDES activities such as off-campus field trips. The new program focuses on breaking the ice for new students, says James MacLaren, associate provost and professor of physics. Students are assigned readings, and in small-group settings, "They are expected to speak in front of class, to articulate their views, to be involved in the discussion. These are all skills that are useful to students."
Surveys show that students already find Tulane faculty members approachable. In the 2003 Princeton Review of the Best 351 Colleges, in the academics section, Tulane ranked No. 2 in the category "Professors Make Themselves Accessible." The TIDES program accelerates that accessibility as students get the chance to speak up and be heard by faculty members with whom--without this program--they might have had to wait until later in their college career to interact. Faculty members sometimes invite classes to meals at their homes.
First-time-away-from-home students, who are missing home-cooked meals, always love this informal, relaxed part of the program. "Students get to know one another pretty well in the course of the semester," says MacLaren. "One of our goals, as well as introducing students to interesting topics and faculty, was to help them make the adjustment to college life. This is a way for students to meet other students, to find friends."
Research shows that engaged students are happier students. And happier students are better students. And better students stay enrolled. It's simple, really. MacLaren says, "When students are connected to the campus that is one of the critical ingredients to student success."
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org