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    April 15, 2002

'Seamless' New Student Experience Designed for Success
By Jim Smith

More than 3,000 new students enroll at UConn every autumn, but it is the rare new student who arrives equipped to take the fullest advantage of all the University offers.

University officials, hoping to make the first-year experience as meaningful as possible for all entering students, are making concerted efforts to ensure the students engage with UConn, remain for the full four years, and successfully complete their college education.

Already, summer orientation, the Husky Week of Welcome, and the First Year Experience offer each incoming student opportunities for a continuous support program throughout his or her first year.

But during the past year, a team has worked hard to integrate these different programs into a single, seamless process, to be known as the New Student Experience. It is expected to pay big dividends, increasing the likelihood that students will stay the course and succeed academically.

Retaining Excellent Students
"We work hard to find excellent students," says M. Dolan Evanovich, associate provost for enrollment management, "so it's important for us to do what we can to retain them. Currently, we retain 88 percent of freshmen to the sophomore year. That puts us in the top third of peer institutions. It's good, but we think we can improve this percentage."

The ultimate goal is to graduate more students, says Evanovich, and UConn is doing comparatively well there, too. Right now, 68 percent of the 3,000-plus students who enroll every autumn graduate within six years. But, once again, "we think we could do better," Evanovich says.

To achieve that goal, Evanovich and his colleagues spent the last year carefully evaluating the three existing programs - the traditional summer orientation, the Week of Welcome (WOW), and the First Year Experience - and determining how the three could be integrated.

"We reconstructed how we communicate with prospective students," says John Barry, associate director of university communications, who has been actively involved in the project from the outset. "The issue is how to get students to engage in the University. We've taken a hard look at how we immerse students into the university culture, from orientation, through the first week of freshman year, and on into the whole first-year experience."

A key message of the initiative, says Barry, is that there is a community on campus for every student. "For nearly all new students, making an early connection with something or someone at the University is essential to their success. It can be a job, a team, a group of fellow students with a shared interest, a professor. If we can help students find a way to connect, we maximize the chances that they will have a successful college career."

"We are working to deliver consistent messages throughout the programs," says Steve Jarvi, director of the Institute for Student Success.

Welcoming Students
Kevin Fahey, associate director for campus activities, says going to college is a big transition for most students: "It's a brand new environment, with challenges new students often don't expect." It was for precisely that reason that Fahey worked with Maria Sedotti, coordinator of orientation services, a longstanding University program, to create the Week of Welcome five years ago.

The idea of WOW is to make the first week on campus as inviting as possible for new students. "WOW helps bridge the gap between orientation and actually commencing a college career," says Fahey.

This year, 125 established students will volunteer to mentor incoming

students during WOW. Many of the mentors, says Fahey, are sophomores, students who have successfully made the transition through their freshman year, with the help of WOW and the First Year Experience programs. Starting this autumn, WOW mentors will team up with resident assistants from the residence halls, where groups of 20-25 new students will be living.

Effective Support
No week-long program at the beginning of freshman year could possibly anticipate everything an entering student will go through, however. That's why the First Year Experience was developed.

Anticipating the challenges that students will predictably experience as they complete their freshman year, the First Year Experience program is tailored to address those challenges and give students pertinent advice at the most appropriate moment.

First Year Experience offers two different kinds of courses. The university success topics course is the most popular, but many students also opt for one of several different small group courses offered by faculty members from many different disciplines.

A one-credit course, for example, with the motto "Success from the Start!" is designed to help both new freshmen and new transfer students at UConn face their challenges and it provides them with support to overcome their obstacles and begin their educational experience at the University effectively.

"The course affords an opportunity to do things that previously needed to be accomplished in orientation," explains David Ouimette, director of the First Year Experience.

First Year Experience was introduced in the fall of 1996, and it has been increasingly successful ever since. "First Year Experience is not mandatory," Jarvi says, "but it now attracts 60 to 70 percent of each freshman class."

An Integrated Experience
The New Student Experience combines the three existing programs, but it is also more than just these programs, says Jarvi: "It includes everything we do - from general education requirements to first year resident hall assignments - to integrate our new students into the University."

What the New Student Experience means is that every new student will be introduced to UConn through a carefully managed program designed to help him or her succeed, increasing the likelihood that freshmen will successfully integrate themselves into the University community and emerge as accomplished students.

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