Significant changes made to first year experience

The first year experience has become such an integral part of life at Maryville College that it is hard to imagine any other way of doing things. However, this is just what Dr. Barbara Wells, vice president and dean of the college, and members of the First Year Revision Task Force are attempting to do this year.

One of the most defining features of MC is its first year experience. Through orientation and a strong first year core curriculum, incoming students are given the tools they need to excel at the college. The two major changes that are being made to the first year experience are modifications made to the freshman orientation process and significant adjustments that have been made in the first-year core curriculum. In former years, freshmen were placed in orientation groups at random and were not placed with an advisor in their division until the spring semester of their freshmen year.

The new plan for orientation places freshmen in an orientation group based on academic interest. The advisor for each group is a faculty member of the division in which the students have indicated interest. Each orientation group is also served by a staff member and Peer Mentor. Students who are not sure about their area of interest are either placed in a group of other undecided students or with members of other groups.

This new system will allow students to become acquainted with faculty and fellow students from the division of interest earlier than they typically were able to in the past. Students will also be placed with an academic advisor the first semester of their freshman years, instead of waiting until the spring semester to be placed with one.

Wells explained that this new orientation model is based on students showing increasing interest in declaring majors early in their college career. While MC does not push students to declare majors early, the faculty and staff are working to accommodate the growing trend in early declaration.

“Many students today are deciding earlier about their majors,” Wells said. “I think that we can attribute this, at least in part, to changes in the economy. Students are less likely arrive at college with no specific goal in mind.”

Another major change made to orientation was that it will now be extended to a full semester-long class. In the past, the freshmen orientation class only lasted for six weeks in the fall semester. According to professor of history and chair of the Maryville curriculum Dr. Nancy Locklin-Sofer, the new orientation plan is spread out over the course of an entire semester and is structured to allow students to become aware of college success strategies.

“In the past, you could basically make an A- in FYS 100 just by showing up to class,” Locklin-Sofer said. “Now, we have structured it in a way in which students can learn not only about getting oriented to the college, but how to become a student that excels at the college.”

Every five years, the curriculum at MC undergoes a review. The review for the years of 2005- 2010 prompted the members of the Maryville Curriculum Review to consider making changes to the core curriculum, starting with the first year experience.

“I’m not implying that there was anything wrong with the old core curriculum,” Lockin-Sofer said. “However, it was 16 years old. Much has changed in higher education since then.” Before last year’s changes to the core curriculum were made, the MC core curriculum had not undergone a major revision since 1995, making the old core curriculum model at least 16 years old.

“The time was right to think about revising the core. It seemed wise to begin by examining the first year sequence,” Wells said. Locklin-Sofer agrees that it was time to consider making changes to the first year core. “There were aspects of the old model that we couldn’t sustain,” Locklin-Sofer said.

When students, alumni and faculty completed surveys on their feelings towards the first year core, they indicated concern about what they perceived as lack of equivalence between courses and redundancy in core courses. This prompted the members of the First Year Curriculum Task Force to consider making significant changes to the first year core.

The old first year sequence featured seven classes that were spread out over fall, J-term and spring semesters. In the fall, students would take ORN 110: Orientation, FRS 120: Perspectives on the Individual and CMP 110: English Composition. During Jterm, freshmen would take FRS 130: Perspectives on the Environment. In the spring, freshmen would finish up the first year sequence by taking FRS 140: Perspectives on the American Community and CMP 120: Advanced Composition and Speech. The new first year sequence is comprised of five classes, some of which are hybrids of old first year core classes.

Now, freshmen in their fall semester will take FYS 100: Introduction to the College, FYS 110: First Year Seminar and CMP 110. During J-term, freshmen will take a new class called FYS 120, which deals with the speech component taken from the former CMP 120 course. In the spring, freshmen will take the course that is replacing CMP 120, now named CMP 130. Whereas freshmen students formerly wrote a research paper in FRS 140, now students will be completing their research paper in COMP 130.

Wells explains that the reasoning behind returning the research paper to the writing faculty is that students and faculty alike were complaining about lack of uniformity in the grading of research papers in FRS 140. Wells hopes that by giving the writing faculty the responsibility of helping students with the research paper, those students will come out with a more consistent understanding of the research paper.

According to Locklin-Sofer, the goal of those who implemented the old core curriculum was to “lay a solid, broad foundation and then build on it.” The old core curriculum model was based upon an outward-moving program, which sought to cultivate individual, national and then global perspective. However, Locklin-Sofer thinks that this model is no longer as relevant to the current student as it was 16 years ago.

“It was a great developmental model then.Now, we are all global and individually minded from at least middle school,” Locklin-Sofer said. Another issue that faculty tried to address was the fact that the old core curriculum had a larger number of hours than comparable programs in many other small liberal arts colleges.

One of the major decisions made was to lessen the number of hours for the first year experience, cutting back from 8 to 6 total hours. MC has a long history of being involved in environmental efforts and was much ahead of its time in implementing programs such as FRS 130: “Perspectives on the Environment.”

However, environmental awareness has become much more mainstream, so it was decided that it would be beneficial to do away with FRS 130 in favor of introducing a new core class, FYS 120: Communication Strategies, which deals with media literacy and the public speaking component, which was formerly featured in CMP 120.

“That was a difficult decision,” Wells said. “It isn’t that we think environmental awareness is not an important issue. In the mid 90s, this aspect of the old curriculum was really cutting edge. Now, there are many different ways for students to be involved in environmental education, in new courses such as environmental economics, or extracurricular opportunities such as the Environmental Action Team and the Environmental and Forestry Advisory Committee.”

Wells hopes that the new core curriculum will help to improve MC’s enrollment and retention rate by making the first year experience more enjoyable to current students and more attractive to prospective students. Both Locklin-Sofer and Wells anticipate that the revision process will continue by addressing the senior year curriculum, then moving to other parts of the core curriculum.

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