The groundbreaking for the Student Success Building in December will bring the First Year Success (FYS) Program one step closer to a new and permanent home. Serving nearly 700 incoming freshmen this fall, the program expects to have nearly 2,000 participants per semester by the building’s 2012 opening date, according to Sandra Mizumoto Posey, the program’s academic director since last May.
“The challenge is to grow with intention and maintain a vision for the program,” says Posey of the optional program, which has had various formats at the College over the years. “The program served nearly 400 students last fall and it has grown exponentially.”
FYS, a major initiative to strengthen student retention rates, relies heavily on learning communities. To further this goal, FYS features linked courses, for example, an English composition course linked with a history course or a political science course linked with a speech communication course.
The students participating in a learning community take six credits of linked courses with their peers for the semester. Each class is limited to 22-24 students.
Measures of success for the program include student GPA and focus groups. As the program continues, cohorts will be followed through graduation to measure GPA and graduation rates.
A sense of community
FYS Student Ambassador Alejandro Chacon started with the program in fall 2007 and has been working with FYS ever since, talking to students at student orientation events. The 21-year-old human services major appreciated the smaller classes and the linked courses. "It was easy to create a sense of community, and to get support from peers with homework.”
In addition to linked courses, the program offers Supplemental Instruction (SI), a series of weekly interactive review sessions that promote connection among the participants as well as learning outside of the classroom. The SI leader is a trained Metro State junior or senior who is prepared to lead study sessions to help students who want to improve their understanding of course materials and improve their grade.
According to Posey, SI helps the students develop and maintain relationships with each other. “It’s important to establish a sense of connection in a commuter school and establish it right from the beginning.”
Understanding the importance of thinking out of the box, Posey has offered design tips for the classrooms in the Student Success Building, “I’ve suggested that they cover walls in white board paint. Students can go to the wall, write and share ideas. I want to encourage participatory learning. It will open up the class for collaboration,” says Posey, who holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from UCLA and currently serves as associate professor in Metro State’s Institute for Women’s Studies and Services.
Pieces of the Puzzle
Posey praises the work done on the program prior to her arrival. “People have done a remarkable job holding the pieces together. It shows how important the program is to people on this campus, who had various pieces of the puzzle and wanted students to succeed. President Jordan has been key in making it a priority for this institution from the top down.”
Concurring with this sentiment is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies Jacqueline McLeod, who began working with the program in 2006 and at one point served as its faculty coordinator. “Dr. Jordan mentioned the program whenever he spoke on campus. He kept talking about commitment to the program. Everybody understood campus-wide.”
Visiting Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Hedy Katz, who has long taught a linked course with Visiting Instructor of History Barbara Gabriel, says, “Like many others, including President Jordan, I'm discouraged by the low retention rates of our student population. I see the potential of bright freshmen who don't succeed because of a lack of preparation, either in academics or attitudes, lack of knowledge about how to negotiate higher education and huge institutions, or a lack of connection in a non-residential college.
Gabriel, who is in her 20th year of teaching at Metro State, says, “It’s an excellent program to help the success rate of incoming freshmen. They need help in basic things like adjusting to college. For example, you have a challenge getting them to understand due dates. Just coming to class like in high school is not enough. We want them to become self-motivated.”
Last summer Gabriel and Katz had their workbook “Diversity and Democracy” published by Kendall Hunt. “It was a result of us working together over the years. It’s all class activity in the book,” says Katz, who adds, “I've seen the program go through fits and starts, discarding unsuccessful strategies and employing new ones, just the way we want our freshmen to approach their higher education. I hope that we keep refining the First Year Program to best serve our new students.”
Faculty in the classroom
An ongoing effort for the program is to include all departments to help meet the growing demand, as eventually all incoming freshmen will be required to participate.
Posey says the program is seeking a larger base of learner-centered faculty who are “dedicated to teaching first-year students through active pedagogy and will stay with the program year after year."
McLeod, who taught in a similar program at a university before arriving at Metro State, adds it’s important for future faculty in the program to understand "you are not teaching outside of your discipline. Just decide how you alter pedagogy for 24 students compared to 35.”
She says she continues to participate in the program because "I like the (FYS students). Initially it’s different when teaching students first out of high school. I take them where they are and then we go from there.”
The program is looking to pilot two cohorts, one on Fridays and another during the evenings in spring 2011. Currently classes are only offered during the day for Monday-Wednesday and Tuesday-Thursday classes.
In whatever phase the program is in student Chacon says the concerns from the students seem to be timeless. “The majority of their concerns are about getting around on campus, being scared of starting college and not knowing what to do,” she says.
Learn more about the program offerings at the First Year Success.
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