Easing first-year transition the goal of RRIP project

With almost 8,500 students streaming through the hallways at the University of Lethbridge each day, it seems improbable that a student could feel isolated.

Not necessarily so, says Dan Kazakoff, the director of Theory Into Practice Programs in the Faculty of Management, especially when it comes to new students.

"First-year students are dealing with a lot of difficult things – it's often their first time away from home, they may be dealing with a budget for the first time, among many other things. They're feeling alone and not knowing where to turn," says Kazakoff, who leads the Academic Success Achievement and Learning Resources Team. The group is responsible for a first-year experience course pilot project.

The course is designed to help students with the transition to the university lifestyle, the goal being that it will increase their opportunity for success and see them continue their studies through graduation.

Liberal Education 2850: Mapping Self, Career, Campus, Community will help make students more aware of all the services available to them at the University, thereby helping them overcome any hurdles they might encounter.

The course will be offered on a trial basis in January 2013. In addition to a look at campus services, it is also designed to give students a greater awareness of their community as a whole and what the City of Lethbridge has to offer them.

"This course will give first-year students a sense that they're not alone," says Kazakoff. "When people feel as though they're part of a community, they're more likely to give back. And if students are engaged with our community, they're more likely to achieve success and complete their degree."

Kazakoff says the team, part of the Recruitment and Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) project, sought feedback from first-year students who felt they had issues that couldn't be solved on campus. It was discovered that often, the support systems were in place but the students were simply not aware of the help available to them.

The pilot project course will see the class divided into groups. Each week, the groups will be assigned to check out different areas of campus – such as Career and Employment Services or Counselling Services – in order to come up with a map of the actual resources available to them. They'll then be tasked to create a concept map of themselves, looking at who they are and the issues they are facing as first-year students.

Lecturers will be brought in from across the University to further enhance their knowledge of what support services are available on campus, and to expose them to the liberal education philosophy the University is based on. They'll also hear from off campus guests on topics which could range from the University's natural surroundings and First Nations culture to opportunities to volunteer or network within the community. Everything is geared to help students develop both academically and personally.

"Hopefully, they'll learn you don't have to go away on weekends to Calgary, or head back home to have positive experiences," says Kazakoff.

While enrolment in the pilot project will be entirely voluntary, Kazakoff says there are universities where such courses are mandatory for all first-year students. The University will begin promoting the pilot course in September and the committee is confident they'll have no problem filling the 24 available spots.

Upon the term's completion, the course will be evaluated to see if it served students' needs, and if so, whether it's feasible to expand it so that a larger number of students are able to take part in the future.

This story appears in the April 2012 issue of the Legend. To view the entire issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.