By Becky Killian / Editor
Union College aims to help incoming freshmen make the transition from home to campus with a new program.
The “Union College Experience” — which will bring freshmen to the campus a week before the fall semester starts, also aims to boost the college’s student retention numbers, according to Dr. David L. Johns, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the college.
During that week, students will be divided into groups and participate in a slate of social activities and trips to help them become acquainted with their fellow class members. Those activities may include a lip-synching contest and entertainment by a magician. Freshmen will be introduced to the college’s “stories and legends,” Johns said.
Students will learn about campus resources, such as the library, as well as how to avoid plagiarism. They will have a “Majors Day” during which freshmen will have lunch with various faculty members so they can learn about their options for choosing a course of study.
Freshmen will meet their group’s academic advisor and a peer mentor, who will provide students with two close campus contacts who know them well and can intervene should a student go into a “tailspin,” Johns said.
The freshmen program starts Monday, Aug. 18. Johns said students will meet at 8 a.m. and have activities and classes until late evening. Freshmen are required to attend.
Johns estimated that the campus will likely see 300 new students, so they will be divided into 15 groups of 20 students.
The estimated program cost is $260 per student.
While other colleges offer similar programs, Johns said students are charged for it. Union College is offering its program for free.
The college intends to monitor each group to measure its future success as a way to determine the program’s effectiveness.
The immersion with these smaller groups should help freshmen feel a part of the larger campus family to which they belong. Plus, Johns said the program fits with the college’s “one to one” philosophy.
“It’s a cooperative effort across all areas of the campus,” Johns said about the program.
Studies show freshmen often grapple with the difficulties posed by loneliness, being in unfamiliar surroundings and having to make seemingly simple decisions on their own — like getting up at a certain time in the morning, Johns said. They might also struggle with the study skills a college education requires.
New students may find these experiences “a little shocking” and “alarming,” Johns said. The new freshman program is designed to prevent these negative experiences by allowing new students to develop connections at the college.
The program is expected to be especially helpful to those first-generation college students whose parents don’t have the experience to help their children with the specific challenges posed by the transition to college.
“It’s getting acclimated to what it means to be a college student,” Johns said.