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The Blue & Gray Press | July 17, 2018

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Redesign of First Year Experience seeks to bring students together

Redesign of First Year Experience seeks to bring students together


As part of collaboration between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, the First Year Experience will be changing for the class of 2019.

Associate Provost Timothy O’Donnell, Vice President of Student Affairs Doug Searcy and Director of the Quality Enhancement Plan Keith Mellinger are creating a new First Year Experience that will combine the first year seminar course, common interests, academic advising, peer mentoring and residential communities.

The process to enhance the first year seminar class began in 2013 when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools reaccredited the university. As part of the reaccreditation, the University of Mary Washington made a commitment to redesign and improve the first year experience.

The requirement of the first year seminar in the general education curriculum began in 2008, and the options for first year seminar courses have crossed all disciplines. In the upcoming fall 2015 semester, there will be more course offerings in other disciplines than in previous years. Students will be able to specialize their seminar toward their department with the new addition of classes from departments such as music or biology.

Another change is that students will be required to complete their seminar in their first semester at UMW. This will result in the creation of 65 freshman seminar course sections to accommodate the requirement. The faculty that will teach these courses have already been designated.

One of the main goals of overhauling the program is to allow new UMW students to find commonalities amongst each other. One way the school hopes to do this is by requiring all freshmen to read the same book, which will likely be handed out during orientation.

The idea was taken from the current Honors Program, which has had great success with requiring a commonly read book. Introduced by Kelli Slunt, the director of the Honors Program at UMW, the common read has allowed students to become engaged in the program before they begin their classes. Mellinger similarly noted that this program will hopefully allow for students to interact and become invested early in their experience, before they even come to campus.

As a final renovation to the first year program, freshman will live with classmates from their first year seminar.

“There is clear and compelling evidence that when students live and learn together, they perform better,” said Mellinger.

The goal is that students who indicate similar interests and preferences in freshman seminar courses will flourish in a Living Learning Community. This is reflected in the recent changes to on-campus housing, such as the transformation of Virginia Hall from all-female housing to co-ed housing, and the transition of Mason Hall from upperclassman housing to freshman residence halls.

One of the advantages of this program, as mentioned by Mellinger, is that it takes the best aspects from a variety of different models at other peer institutions, such as Christopher Newport University, Gettysburg College, Dickinson College and James Madison University.

“It is what makes the UMW experience strong,” said Mellinger.

Incoming students will select their freshman seminar and living preferences during orientation this summer. While all students will be required to take the seminar, those who wish to will be able to opt out of the living arrangements.