First-year students reflect on First Year Experience course

Photo: “Swope” by West Chester University is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The First Year Experience is a course that was developed and put into effect for incoming first years for the 2018-2019 academic year.

WCU’s 2019-2020 Academic Catalog defines the First Year Experience as “a four-credit requirement and applies to incoming first-year students, as well as transfer students with fewer than 24 college-level credits.”

The course is intended to introduce incoming students to resources at WCU and aid in the assistance of transferring from high school to college.

First-year Caroline Helms spoke about her own experience with the course. “Though I have learned about the university throughout the class, it was nothing that I couldn’t have learned on my own,” said Helms.

Often, students are required to visit different locations on campus and attend certain university events, like talks and workshops, as part of the coursework. First-year Catherine Young described the required attendance at events as inconvenient. There is alternative coursework for the students that have class content; the alternative work can add up to being more work than other courses that first-year students take, which defeats the purpose of the course. The First Year Experience is meant to ease the transition.

Initially, the First Year Experience was implemented for students who came into WCU as undeclared. Sophomore Kara DeWeese described her experience last year as contributing to the confusion of choosing a major.

Representatives from each college would come into First Year Experience classes to talk about why their college was the best option. Often, that involved each representative shedding some negative light on the alternative options.

“It came off as a competition,” said DeWeese. “[The representatives] were putting down the other colleges. It felt like [the students] were watching a debate. It was incredibly unhelpful because we were all undecided at the time.”

The First Year Experience is still in the process of being developed. The program was extended to every student for the 2019-2020 academic year and is specific to majors…

The First Year Experience is still in the process of being developed. The program was extended to every student for the 2019-2020 academic year and is specific to majors: arts, business, culture and communication, education, STEM and the list goes on.

WCU’s  2019-2020 catalog further defines what the course entails as it continues to develop, “They share common content across all sections, including:

– An overview of the liberal arts tradition in higher education and an explanation of the structure of WCU’s General Education curriculum

– An introduction of the e-portfolio and its use across the undergraduate degree

– Research about brain development, psychology of learning, and metacognitive, affective, and social dynamics; information intended to help students understand the learning process and the factors important to a successful college experience

– An opportunity for experiential learning

– Information pertaining to university policies and campus life.”

However, the major-specific courses are creating a new problem; first-year students are not guaranteed to be placed in a First Year Experience course that is relevant to their major. A business major could be placed into an arts First Year Experience course.

Even if students do place into a First Year Experience class relevant to their college, it doesn’t mean that the material within the course is specific to their major. “[The Humanities First Year Experience] is an umbrella term for a lot of unrelated majors,” said Helms. “For instance, I’m an English major, but there are history and undecideds engaging in the same content.”

It impacts professors too. Professors teaching the First Year Experience have been experiencing poorer student evaluations because students do not enjoy the course.

Other colleges have been successful at implementing a First Year Experience. In some colleges, the First Year Experience lasts two weeks. In others, it lasts a full year. The University of South Carolina created the ‘model’ First Year Experience course in 1972 — spearheaded by Thomas Jones — that had the goal of “bonding students to the institution and transforming the way that undergraduate students were taught.”

WCU students and professors only hopes that the First Year Experience will improve as the program continues to develop.

Kirsten Magas is a fourth-year student majoring in English and minoring in creative writing and journalism.

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