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Center turns to innovative methods with first-year students

November 8, 2011 By John Lucas

Inside UW–Madison recently talked with Center for the First-Year Experience Director Wren Singer about how the university has shifted to a more comprehensive approach to serving the needs of first-year students.

CFYE is holding its free, annual First Year Conference from 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, at the Pyle Center. The conference is an opportunity for faculty, staff and graduate students to discuss innovative research and practice regarding transitioning freshmen and transfer students.

iUW: What’s the most important thing UW–Madison does to orient first-year students?

Wren Singer: UW–Madison views orientation as a yearlong process, beginning at SOAR and carrying throughout the first year. The most important thing we do is focus our attention on the whole year and stage educational opportunities and events to meet students’ needs in a developmentally appropriate way.  

iUW: What are some tips for faculty and staff who work with large numbers of these students?

WS: First-year students are struggling with many challenges. They are encountering an educational system and environment unlike anything they have ever experienced. Faculty and staff working with first-year students should remember to be clear and explicit in their teaching, instructions and directions. They should make space and time for students’ questions and concerns. They should view their own work with first-year students as part of the higher education orientation and socialization process.  

iUW: How has CFYE’s mission evolved since changing from the Office of New Student Programs? Is it working?

WS: Our mission has expanded from primarily programming-based orientation efforts to a large campus-wide initiative to improve the student’s first-year experience. We have expanded our efforts in student advising, launched first-year and transfer seminar courses, created faculty, staff and graduate student development and training programs. In general, we are more focused on the academic elements of the first-year experience as CFYE than as ONSP.

It is working? Absolutely. We have more faculty, graduate students and staff engaged in what we are doing, we have good assessment and evaluation of our programs, and the first year retention rate continues to rise.  

iUW: Lots has been made about doing a better job orienting transfers, and rightly so. Are we doing better?

WS: We are in the initial stages of building the Transfer Transition Program, which focuses on assisting transfer students during the admission, orientation and first-year processes. To date, we have developed new electronic resources for transfer students, hired a transfer transition advisor, and revised our Transfer SOAR program. We are doing much better, both as a department and as a campus, in keeping our attention and efforts focused on the unique needs of transfer students.