Workshop looks at frosh. experience

By Tammy Sholer

More than 100 NIU faculty, staff and students gathered at a workshop Tuesday to determine ways to enhance college life for freshmen.

The “Enhancing the Freshman Year Experience” workshop is designed to determine how to make incoming freshmen have a successful year academically and socially, said Jon Dalton, Student Affairs vice president.

“There are four million freshmen and they get the short end of the stick (because) freshmen receive larger classes and the least experienced faculty,” said John Gardner, University Campuses and Continuing Education associate vice president at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Freshmen need to be treated with respect and shown their potential in college, he said.

Most colleges offer an orientation course to help first year students learn what they need to know to be successful, Gardner said. However, these classes are usually offered in the summer rather than during the school year when they would be most beneficial to freshmen, he said.

Another way to enhance the freshman experience, Gardner said, is “improving the environment where students live, especially in the residence halls because that is where students spend the most time.”

Money should be invested for the residence halls to make their living quarters a place to learn academically, as well as socially, Gardner said. Students with high grade point averages and high persistency rates are active both in and out of classes, he said.

Gardner said college graduates revealed they learned the most from an older peer, not in the classroom with a faculty member. He also said students need an instructor to set a precedent on what freshmen need to learn to be successful in college.

If at least one adult—a teacher, coach or custodian—cared about individual students, they would be more apt to stay in school, Gardner said. However, it is hard to guarantee an adult will care for each new student, he said.

Gardner spoke at the workshop because he is an expert on how to make the freshman year a strong collegiate experience, Dalton said.

Current research on student involvement, student satisfaction, and student problems related to the freshman year was conducted on campus, said Lida Barrett, associate provost. Dalton said research from the last two years does not show freshmen had a negative experience, but the workshop was held to determine ways to make the first year of college better.

The workshop was an invitational half-day conference co-sponsored by Student Affairs and the Student Association Academics Affairs Committee, Barrett said. “Also, the workshop is an opportunity for Student Affairs and the Student Association Academic Affairs Committee to work closely together on a specific project,” Dalton said.