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Campus service helps ease transition for new students

October 29, 2008 By John Lucas

Anyone who has attended college or sent a child off to college knows firsthand how bewildering the first days, weeks and months can be. A difficult transition, especially at a large institution like the University of Wisconsin–Madison, can have a long-term impact on a student’s success.

To help students get the most out of this critical first year, the Center for the First-Year Experience (CFYE) — formerly Orientation and New Student Programs — is continuing efforts to welcome, orient and engage students throughout the entire first year.

Over the next few years, CFYE will be working to improve Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR), create a new first-week-on-campus orientation program, create and teach small freshman seminar courses, provide training for faculty and graduate students teaching first-year courses, support efforts to improve advising and tutoring for first-year students and conduct research about student adjustment and learning in the first year.

The center is funded by a new student fee, which replaces the fee for the SOAR program, and includes the entire first-year experience.

“SOAR is an important program, but SOAR alone cannot bridge the transition to UW–Madison,” says CFYE Assistant Director Carren Martin, who has worked to build the SOAR program over the past 12 years. “It is not possible to teach students everything they need to know about the campus and their academic experience in 24 hours. SOAR is the first step in a year-long process which includes welcome events, residence halls, advising, tutoring, and first-year courses.”

As part of its training efforts, CFYE will hold its annual First-Year Conference from 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31 at the Pyle Center.

The free conference is intended to provide UW–Madison faculty, graduate students, and academic staff an opportunity to think and learn about first-year students and their academic success.

Session topics include engaging first-year students in large gateway courses, student development in the first college year and intentional learning in first-year courses. A student panel will also be organized. The keynote speaker will be Betsy Barefoot, co-director and senior scholar of the Policy Center on the First Year of College.

“Through active engagement with presenters and colleagues, we hope that the conversations that begin at this conference carry into our daily work,” says CFYE Director Wren Singer.

There is no registration fee, and a breakfast and lunch buffet are included.