University faculty, staff and administrators shed their work-week personas, rolled up their sleeves and turned into a platoon of movers last August. More than 100 hefted boxes and unloaded vehicles to help students settle into the newly opened Arlington Hall and other on-campus housing. The residence hall move-in was just one part of Welcome Week-seven days filled with everything from information fairs to psychic readings. More than 1,000 participants thronged the Recreational Sports Fall Kick-off, and 3,800 enjoyed food and fun at the Mav Cookout and Activities Fair
Hundreds more attended Waffleopolis, the Welcome to the World Party and other events. Sponsored by Student Success Programs, Welcome Week is just one part of a comprehensive effort to enhance the first-year experience for freshmen and transfer students. First-semester freshman Tori Ponson spent one Welcome Week afternoon attending the College of Science Open House.
"I met all the deans and my professors and got a good overview of my courses," he said. "Now I know them and if I need help on anything, I know I can go to them." A pre-med major, Ponson picked up information on the premed/pre-dental association and was particularly happy to discover that the group offers personalized assistance in preparing for medical school entrance exams.
"That's a big part of our programs, to make students aware of what's available to them," Student Success Programs Coordinator Janette Keen said. "Many of them don't know what programs exist, or if they do, they're not aware of how much we could help. Some of them don't even know that they need help."
Formula for success
A university-wide commitment to attract and retain students prompted establishment of the Student Success Programs office in 1999. "We started out knowing that we needed to better publicize our current services," Keen said. "Then we began working to determine what else was needed."
From those discussions, Welcome Week was born. In the past, campus offices and groups often held organized activities during the first week of school, but there was no coordination of efforts and little effective publicity. "We decided it would be a good idea to coordinate it all and bring it all under one umbrella," Keen said. "We felt we could enhance existing programs and bring in some new events as well."
Once students feel welcome at UTA, Student Success Programs works to integrate them fully into campus life and help them succeed at the university level. The first year at college is critical. Many new students become discouraged and drop out during the first six weeks.
To avoid that, Student Success Programs offers Year One at UTA (Y1@UTA), providing programs and classes to ease the transition process. College adjustment and university success courses form a main component of the Year One program. Other academic support efforts include the Maverick Scholar Association, the Gateway program, supplemental instruction, learning assistance programs, academic advising, career advising, peer hosts, the academic awards ceremony for freshmen, and the Honors College.
The Maverick Scholar Association (MSA) enables students to participate in groups with other students of similar academic interests. Each MSA group of 15 to 25 students, generally all with majors in the same college or school, enrolls in several core classes together, including the College Adjustment course.
These Maverick scholars are encouraged to get to know one another and to form study groups. Faculty mentors and peer counselors further assist through regular personal interaction. Additional MSA benefits include expedited advising and registration, reserved spaces in core curriculum classes, and steady academic progress toward graduation.
Because transfer students experience their own unique challenges, Student Success Programs has formed a transfer experience task force of UTA faculty and staff along with representatives from area community college districts.
"We're looking for ways to improve the transfer experience," Keen said. "We encourage the community college students to complete their associate's degrees, then come to UTA. We have several articulation agreements with these schools to accept their credits."
A specific effort aimed at keeping students and their families informed will arrive in mailboxes early this spring. A series of newsletters, including a guide for families, will go out to all new students admitted for fall 2001. "Many of our people are first-generation college students," Keen said. "Their parents need this information. Frankly, some of the academic lingo is not always clear."
For students who perform well during their first semester, earning at least a 3.5 grade-point average, Year One offers another incentive: the Freshman Honors List. And for those who struggle a bit, Year One now has an online writing lab, with online math and science clinics to come.
Everyone can play a part in making the first year a success for new students. Student Success Programs now offers specialized training so that faculty and staff can serve as guides to help students navigate the maze of college life. "We need people who realize the importance of giving good, accurate information and providing contacts for students," Keen said. Those who complete the training will be able to post a sign outside their office or cubicle that reads: Year One Spoken Here.