Moving forward with the first year experience

Graphic by Kate Turner
Graphic by Kate Turner

Since it was created in December, the first-year experience task force has moved out of the preliminary and research and development phases and will now be moving towards drafting an action plan.

Chaired by David McMurray, vice president of student affairs, and Deborah MacLatchy, vice president of academic and provost, the task force was formed with the aim of bringing a more comprehensive approach to considering the experience the university creates for first-year students.

“The first-year experience is well done, but it’s not as cohesive as we’d like it to be. There are some gaps,” McMurray explained. “And instead of doing that one-off, we want to make sure that things are looked at in a full, comprehensive view so that we can finalize an excellent program going forward.”

McMurray reviewed the progress that the task force has made since December and their plan going into the summer and new school year. The preliminary phase involved setting the foundation of the project: establishing a mandate, guiding principles and looking at first-year skills, competencies and learning outcomes. From there, the task force moved into the research and development phase, focusing on four things.

“The first, was there’s an annual international conference on the first-year experience,” explained McMurray. “So we sent a small team to that conference to do a wide sweep of all of the latest trends, technologies, programs and approaches on the first year.”

Additionally, three research and development committees were formalized from the task force: an internal research group, an external research group and a program audit and inventory group.

“I know we’re all excited,” he said. “We split up in these groups and I was involved with the group three that I mentioned. People were really excited about the kinds of things that we’ve already got on board, but there’s so much more that we can do.”

The information gathered by each group will be presented at the next meeting — which will be taking place later this month— and used to draft an action plan.

“It’ll basically be a first shot at a more comprehensive, intensive focus on the first-year experience,” McMurray said. “And we’ll want to circulate that widely to the Laurier community in both Waterloo and Brantford to get feedback from everyone — from students, from faculty, from staff and from alumni.”

The drafting and circulation will take place over the summer and into the fall term when students have returned to campus.

Their intent from here, according to McMurray, is to “[move] towards a final recommendation in late fall, so that [they’re] ready to go for the 2014-15 year”.

“It’s a long process because there’s a lot to do,” he continued. “There’s a lot of eagerness to get that draft out. I think when we do we’ll be very well prepared and the document will be one that will excite the entire campus community.”

Annie Constantinescu , WLU Students’ Union president and CEO, also commented on the lengthiness of the process.

“I think we’re being very diligent in the process. Yes, it’s very long and extensive,” she said. “[But] I think it’s good that we are being extensive, because it’s one of those things that if you’re going to do it you might as well do it well and take the time.”

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