Adelphi holds Orientation for first-year students every summer, but this year the University added a new opportunity: small group meetings between students and faculty members to talk about life in college—and to reinforce that students can always turn to faculty for advice and support.
Getting students off on the right foot as soon as they arrive on campus is a top priority for colleges these days. It certainly is at Adelphi, and the University is particularly good at it. That’s reflected in Adelphi’s U.S. News & World Report ranking as one of the universities providing the best first-year experiences. But being one of the best doesn’t mean Adelphi can’t do even better. Peter West, PhD, who recently assumed the new title of associate provost for student success, is in charge of the University’s efforts to refine and strengthen its program for first-year students.
As one of his many initiatives, Dr. West introduced a new program—Academic First-Year Sessions—to Orientation this summer. Each of the 40 sessions brought two faculty members together with small groups of incoming students to discuss the challenges and opportunities of college life.
“We had a similar program in the summer of 2018, but that involved larger groups of students and was held in an auditorium,” Dr. West said. “We thought this year we could make it even more engaging and meaningful by creating smaller conversations inside classrooms to encourage real discussion back and forth.”
The goal was not only to help incoming students understand what to expect during their first year at Adelphi, but to make them comfortable with faculty members and excited about working with them.
“It’s really important to give new students an early opportunity to talk with faculty members,” Dr. West said. “Not all students arrive at college ready to take advantage of things like office hours or faculty-led research opportunities. The sessions were a valuable experience and helped students see how thoughtful, approachable and engaged our faculty members are as teachers, advisers and scholars.”
The new approach made a huge difference, according to Sarah Eltabib, a lecturer in General Studies and co-chair of the First-Year Experience Committee, who participated in six of the sessions.
“I’ve been doing similar programs for six years, and this year’s stood out,” Eltabib said. “Students were really participating. I’ve never seen them so engaged. After one of the sessions, the other faculty member and I looked at one another and said, ‘No student even took their phone out!'”
While the sessions dealt with practical information, they focused on a simple, thought-provoking question posed to students: What do you hope to get out of your education?
Many students had a very clear answer to that question, having already decided on a major and a career path. It was an answer that Eltabib challenged.
“I’m always a little disappointed when all the students know what they want to do, because I think that they’re limiting themselves,” she said. “I know that some of our programs require early starts, but there are so many fascinating options at Adelphi. I think students should explore before settling on a direction.”
Some students were taken aback by that advice. “Our counselors told us we have to know what we want to do,” one said. “We didn’t even know that exploring was an option. We didn’t even know it was a thing.”
It certainly is, and to reinforce that, each student who participated in the sessions—as well as every other first-year student—received a copy of this year’s Adelphi Community Reads selection, Educated: A Memoir, written by the historian Tara Westover. A best seller, the book is an account of the author’s struggle for self-invention and the part that education played in allowing her to see her life through new eyes.
In many ways, the Academic First-Year Sessions were designed to prompt new students to think about the many possibilities that an Adelphi education offers. Just as important, they showed students that there are always people to go to at the University—faculty members, administrators—for help and support.
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