Reflections on working with first-years

Almost at the end of my first month in this position, I’m reflecting on what has transpired during this period.

I’m learning new things and I have broadened my perspective about who we are as an arts faculty. Even as a department chair, I never had this perspective.

One of the things I love most about my job is the students and their ways of trying to survive in a sea of unknown expectations and new ways of doing things.

First-year students battling to be part of a community, while desperately trying to balance all the demands university life suddenly presents to them.

At the same time, they try to have the so called Hollywood style “university life,” as I call it: fraternities, sororities, partying, drinking too much, etc.

Students find themselves overwhelmed.

They were told in high school that university is different but they didn’t realize how complex it really is. It’s a challenge for many of them.

So, with the first semester finished, we have the list of first-year students who find themselves in a cumbersome situation facing a worrisome performance.

We invited them for meetings, although the attendance at one hosted on Jan. 24 was nothing less than disappointing. The following Thursday night was very rewarding, reaching one-third of the number we contacted.

We asked them questions, offered them resources, made ourselves and the services available to them reachable, but you could still feel a sense of distance; students today are looking for something else.

They are used to having a constant communication. They text someone, they get an answer almost immediately.

They are at it 24/7.

Of course, we can’t provide this kind of access, mainly to professors.

As I drove home after the meeting, I was thinking about the students in that room. They took the time to come.

Though not always 100 per cent engaged, the large majority stayed for the whole session.

They responded to questions, they asked very good ones and they seemed somewhat concerned about their performance — or lack of it.

We reached and probably ‘touched’ someone yesterday. But what about the rest?

When they were asked questions about the obstacles they faced in their first semester, the most popular answers were: problems with time management; partying; writing skills/essays.

When they were asked how many have not approached their profs when in trouble, the large majority raised their hands.


They are intimidated. This was a very common problem.

When they were asked if they have ever attended boring lectures, a sea of hands raised immediately, without any hesitation.

I believe this was the first time somebody gave them the opportunity to actually express such feeling: they are bored!

We may think they are listening. We may believe they are engaged, but most of the time, they are not.

Changes are needed.

Dr. Mercedes Rowinsky-Geurts is the associate dean of students: student affairs and special projects, for the faculty of arts

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