UW program aims for first-year integration

(Graphic by Carly Basch)
(Graphic by Carly Basch)

The transition from high school to university is not easy and orientation week isn’t always enough to help first-year students adjust. But the University of Waterloo has taken the next step and introduced a program called Dear First Year You, which shares upper-year students’ advice, as well as answers questions, providing transitional assistance to new students.

Focusing on topics such as getting involved, off-campus housing, time management and organizational skills, as well as preparation for second year, these interactive sessions will be led upper-year students at UW.

The sessions take the form of live chats, which are available online, thus providing students the opportunity to either listen live or watch recorded sessions on their own time Brenley Devlin, coordinator of First Year Experience and Transition, explained why this is important.

“A lot of students are looking for help, but are sometimes hesitant to go to a workshop or event [and] may be more willing to watch something online,” said Devlin.

“If I were still a first-year student I would have appreciated knowing I could always go back to the information if I needed it.”

Additionally, through a program called U-Stream, students can ask questions anonymously online in order to have their voices heard in a risk-free environment. They can do so through a system called U- Stream; all they need to do is log in and create an ID.

University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University double degree student Brennan Hudson reflected that the transition from high school to university often brings new challenges.

“It’s a lot more about doing things on your own time and managing things effectively,” Hudson explained on the difficulties of first year. “[The Dear First Year You program] definitely would teach you some good things coming right out of high school in order to avoid some pitfalls a typical first-year could fall into.”

Andrew Noble, president of the Federation of Students, also believes that the program has a lot of potential due to both the online recordings as well as the anonymity aspect.

“They may be the types of students who don’t feel comfortable going to their dons, or contacting counseling, but, hey, if it’s there on-line … the impact will be high,” he said.

When asked on his take of the future success of this program, Noble responded, “It’s a good learning experience,[but] the success of it is still to be seen. It’s too early to make a call yet.” Noble has a direct role in the program as the campus expert on student involvement. He believes that involvement is an opportunity to build relationships, expand net- works and build on skills.

The sessions all have different themes and experts leading the discussion, catering towards different student needs and questions, and as Noble explained, there is no single most important topic. “It depends largely on the student. Some could really utilize time management skills, school-life balance … however for other students there’s an important dynamic in relationship building and just get- ting involved in various areas,” said Noble.

Asked about the importance of providing assistance to first-year students, Devlin explained why Dear First Year You holds potential.

“Orientation is a process, not just an event, so we want to be providing timely information throughout their whole first year here,” she said.

By using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as posters in residences and around campus to reach out to students, the hope is that by focusing on the mile-stones of the first-year experience, these sessions will educate students and provide valuable tools in improving their first-year experience and increasing their opportunity for success.

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