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Freshman-year experience – preparing freshmen for college and universities

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by Ronald Roach

Dr. John N. Gardner remembers a time when colleges and universities
paid little attention to the plight of freshmen adjusting to the rigors
of college life. At the University of South Carolina (USC) in 1970, the
neglect of students — especially that of freshmen — coupled with
brewing anti-Vietnam War sentiment led to a student riot on the
normally placid southern campus, he recalls.

Gardner, who began teaching history at South Carolina’s flagship
university in 1970, believes USC — like most colleges and universities
at the time — did little to nurture a sense of community among
students and neglected to help them develop academic survival skills.

“Schools had not fully considered the importance of the freshman
year as the basis for student success,” says Gardner. “We had to take a
look at the freshman year as a key period.”

In the aftermath of the student riot, about of soul-searching among
university officials led them to cobble together one of the first
comprehensive, semester-long courses designed to help freshmen adjust
to college life. Gardner grew interested in the university’s efforts
and in 1974, he assumed the administration of the course.

“Back then, I saw that the course had enormous potential. I needed more time to develop [it],” he says.

Twenty-four years later, “University 101”, the USC freshman year
survival course, has spawned dozens of similar courses at other
campuses and has led to the establishment of the national Resource
Center for the Study of The Freshman Year Experience and Students in
Transition, which is based at USC.

Developing and Refining the Program

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At USC, Gardner says, more than 2,200 students were enrolled in 108
sections of “University 101” this part fall. The total freshman
enrollment was roughly 2,900 in the fall of 1997. When the course began
in 1972, it enrolled only 264 students in 17 sections.

“Over its twenty-six-year history at USC, more than 43,000 students have taken University 101,” Gardner says.

“University 101” is the three-credit, letter-graded elective that
is offered in both fall and spring semesters. The course covers a wide
variety of topics, such as developing library use skills and effective
study habits, improving writing and speaking skills, learning basic
computer skills, and adjusting to college life. The course is taught in
small groups of twenty to twenty-five students, and is open to transfer
students.

“I was nervous about [USC] because it seemed so big and confusing,”
says Sharesa Chisholm, a 19-year-old African-American native of
Chester, S.C. who plans to major in either nursing or education. The
first-generation college student took the course last fall and says it
has made her transition to college “easier.”

“You’re taught how to manage your time well. I have a good ideas as
to how long I should study for each class and how to balance
extracurricular activities with my studies,” Chisolm says.

“University 101” instructors are required to complete a teaching
workshop that trains them in pedagogy and material specific to the
program. Gardner says there’s a high level of participation among
senior faculty members and administrators.

Instructors also are required to be full-time university employees.
Because of their heavy workload, tenure-track faculty are not required
to become “University 101” instructors, still many do, according to
Gardner.

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Since the fall of 1993, “University 101” has incorporated a Peer
Leaders Program in which outstanding juniors and seniors assist course
instructors and serve as role models for incoming freshmen. Peer
Leaders, like the instructors, also are required to undergo training to
secure their positions. This academic year, fifty-one Peer Leaders
received training and have served as co-instructors and role models to
freshmen.

Gardner says the growth of “University 101” at USC has led to its
becoming tailored to meet the needs of different student populations.
Special sections of the course have been developed for business majors,
science and engineering majors, pre-med students, students enrolled in
federal TRIO programs, and students with other particular interests and
needs. Some majors such as business and engineering, require the
course, Gardner says.

Dr. Paul L. Beasley, director of TRIO programs at USC, says the
students who participate in TRIO’s Opportunity Scholars program at USC
come from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds where they are often
the first in their family to attend college. He says USC offers
“University 101” sections specifically tailored to students in the
Opportunity Scholars programs. The special sections help students
adjust to the middle-and upper middle-class environment of the
university.

“University 101′ provides our students help with leaving one
culture and going into another. That can be quite an adjustment,”
Beasley says.

Sharing the Wealth

After taking over the “University 101” program in 1974, Gardner got
involved in supporting the growing movement on campuses around the
country to develop freshman orientation programs and college survival
courses. “University 101” soon became a model for other schools as
colleges and universities grew more sophisticated about developing
recruitment and retention programs.

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In 1982, Gardner organized and hosted a national conference for
administrators and faculty to help them develop freshman year programs.
The conference attracted so much interest that it has become an annual
event held in cities around the country.

In 1986, Gardner established the National Resource Center for The
Freshman Year Experience and Students in Transition at USC, which
collects and disseminates information relating to freshman year and
student transfer adjustment. The center, which is largely supported by
USC an by its own publishing activities, organizes national and
international conferences.

This month, the center is sponsoring the Seventeenth Annual
Conference on the Freshman Year Experience them is “Strengthening the
Foundation for Higher Education.

Dr. Richard H. Mullendore, vice-chancellor for student life at the
University of Mississippi, is participating in the annual conference as
the presenter in the “Designing Successful Orientation Programs”
workshop. He praises USC an Gardner for its leadership in establishing
the National Resource Center and the “University 101” course.

“They have developed a model course and the center is supported by a wonderful staff,” Mullendore says.

He adds that the University of Mississippi implemented its own
version of a “University 101” course this past fall at the Oxford.
Mississippi-based campus. The pilot course attracted roughly 200
students who were divided into ten sections.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com

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