Easing the transition

As many students step into their first year at Wilfrid Laurier University, their academic experience may differ from students in the past. In particular, the arts faculty, for the first time, has introduced ten first-year seminars — something originally only offered in fourth-year.

These seminars range from a variety of topics and will be capped at 20 students each. While they only reach 200 students from the faculty, dean of arts Michael Carroll hopes to continue to change the face of arts education.

“There is now an immense literature on high impact teaching practises and when you go through that literature, first-year seminars are always mentioned,” Carroll explained. “First-year seminars are always on the top five high impact teaching practises that are listed.”

Carroll noted that he wanted to have these seminars in place last year, but the faculty did not have the funds to do so.

But this year, with funding from the vice president: academic budget, the faculty was able to direct $75,000 into the creation of the first-year seminars.

The seminars, which will be offered in history, philosophy, communication studies and other arts programs, will be writing intensive and research focused, with a high level of professor and student interaction. Faculty and professors, according to Carroll, were very interested to get involved in the new project.
In February, The Cord reported lower-than-average grades for first-year students, but Carroll stated that these seminars have been in discussion well before that was discovered. “In the fall term, we had a faculty working group, specifically discussing on what we can do to enhance the first-year experience,” said Carroll.

But Carroll doesn’t want to leave the number of seminars at ten, or have that be the only change to the first-year experience, “One of the suggestions, right from the beginning, was first year seminars [but] we’re explorer other suggestions as well,” said Carroll, noting that this is part of his strategy.

With hopes of receiving more funding for the seminars, Carroll also hopes to implement more residential learning communities. These will consist of 20-25 students living together on a floor who are all part of the same program.
Currently, there are residential learning communities in the school of business and economics (SBE) and one, for the geography program, in the arts faculty.
As well, one of the first-year seminars is linked to the geography residential learning community.

In the business faculty, which will gain 1200 first-year students, initiatives are being made to assist struggling first-year business students earlier in the fall term.

“Last year, we were proactive to begin with but didn’t have a lot of people interested in it. This year, we’re going to start really early, so it might have a little more of an effect,” said Bill Salataka, the undergraduate business programs director, adding that the faculty will contact students right after their mid-terms rather than at the end of the term.

The faculty will also incorporate the School of Business and Economics Student Society (SBESS) in the summer Headstart programs. According to Salataka, this will add more preparation to incoming business students.

Salataka also stated that minor changes are happening to the introductory business courses, “A lot of really neat changes are happening to that course, it will be evolutionary. The changes that were proposed, [while] all can’t be done at once, it will help students.”

Both the arts faculty and SBE are working towards to enhance the first-year experience and will continue to work on it in the following years.

“Quite a major project with that volume of students,” concluded Salataka, “We plan to keep trying, we definitely want students to get through. How that gets done, we’re not sure yet.”

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