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ASU 101 connects students, promotes success

August 21, 2007

ASU is debuting a five-week introductory course to introduce first-year students to the unique culture, challenges and opportunities at the nation’s largest university.

Nearly 9,000 freshmen spent their first day as college students on ASU’s four campuses Aug. 20, bringing to ASU diversity in their backgrounds, interests and goals. By the end of their first semester, all ASU freshmen will know what is expected of them as college students and how to succeed. The new course, ASU 101, will be presented to students in a small class environment.

It would be great if a first-year student could know what a graduating senior knows about being successful in college,” says Duane Roen, a professor of English at the Polytechnic campus. “We have a wonderful opportunity to share this knowledge with them, and to tell them what seniors said about what they needed in college.”

Roen, one of more than 200 faculty teaching ASU 101, says building an intimate community within a large setting is crucial to connecting students to the university and helping them achieve success.
Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi agrees.

ASU 101 guarantees that every freshman is connected to a small group of students and an instructor who can teach them how to succeed in college and give them a sense of the intellectual excitement and rigor of ASU,” she says.

More than 600 sections of ASU 101 will be offered this fall across the four campuses. Each course meets once a week for an hour and a half, and the class size is capped at 19 students, allowing students to develop a sense of community and get the attention they deserve. The class is mandatory for incoming freshmen.

"If it’s important for students to be enrolled in this course, then it needs to be mandatory,” Roen says. “It’s the only way we can increase retention and help more students earn degrees.”

ASU is not the only university to introduce such a course. The University of Florida touts a similar class for incoming students called “First-Year Florida.” According to the university, the one-credit, one-hour per week course teaches students the “tips, tricks and tactics necessary for survival” on Florida’s large, diverse campus. Other schools have followed with similar courses, including the University of Maryland.

In November, the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition completed its seventh national survey of first-year seminar programming in American higher education. Chief academic officers, chief executive officers or chief student affairs at all regionally accredited colleges and universities with undergraduate students and lower divisions were invited to participate in the Web-based survey.

The results included:

• 92.2 percent of institutions who responded indicate that their first-year seminars are offered for academic credit.

• 46 percent of institutions require their first-year seminars for all first-year students.

• 43.4 percent report increased persistence to sophomore year.

• 41.1 percent report improved peer connections.

• 17.8 percent report increased persistence to graduation.

Capaldi and Roen say the ultimate goal with ASU 101 is to increase retention among the university’s student body, especially between the freshmen and sophomore years.

"We care about each individual student and their success, and ASU 101 reflects this commitment,” Capaldi says.

ASU 101 students and instructors will discuss the essentials for academic and personal success, such as choosing a major, social diversity, study skills and university resources. The course uses a combination of multimedia presentations, writing exercises, and discussions both in class and online to introduce unique elements of ASU, such as sustainability and global engagement. It is a rigorous course that teaches the intellectual and research basis of student success strategies, with a flexible curriculum that allows each section to be tailored to the students’ needs.

According to the American Association of Higher Education, “Learning is a complex process. It entails not only what students know, but what they can do with what they know; it involves not only knowledge and abilities, but values, attitudes, and habits of mind that affect both academic success and performance beyond the classroom.”

Roen echoes this claim.

"We need to work with students as closely a we can and talk to them not only about work in our fields but about navigating through the university, learning what resources are available, developing good study skills, and knowing how to make decisions on career choices,” he says.

For his first class, Roen plans to ask students what they think they need most to have a good start at ASU and to carry them through four years. While he will emphasize student success above all else, he sees the importance of familiarizing students with the principles of the New American University, which instructors have the option of teaching in this course.

I think students will understand ASU’s approach to entrepreneurship if we connect it to what makes sense for them,” Roen says. “For example, explain what entrepreneurship means to a biologist and what it takes to get ideas out there.”

Delia Saenz, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Intergroup Relations Center at the Tempe campus, plans to incorporate the required elements – academic success and integrity – into the course, but she also wants to educate students on sustainability and social embeddedness. Above all, she says giving students a chance to learn in a small community at the earliest stage will help with retention.
“Student retention is especially critical from freshman to sophomore years, and much of it can be attributed to the fact that they feel lost in such a big place,” Saenz says.

When asked how ASU 101 will be a success, Saenz replies: “The most important ingredient is instructor enthusiasm. The instructor needs to adopt the students and serve as an anchor point for them. We won’t see immediate results, but let’s be patient and keep working toward our purpose, and we’ll get through the hurdles.”