Starting next fall, Shippensburg University will be offering a new class to incoming freshmen called “The First Year Experience Program.”
The First Year Experience Program, otherwise known as UNIV 101, was developed as part of a larger initiative to revise the university’s general education program. A projected 1,380 incoming freshmen are to be enrolled in the class next semester.
The new required three-credit class is going to have small class sizes that will be capped at 20 students. About 45 to 50 faculty members volunteered to teach sections of the course.
English professor Laurie Cella and history department Chair Steven Burg are also main contributors to the new UNIV 101 course.
UNIV 101 is designed to get first year students excited about college and the opportunities that await them at SU. Professors are going to explore exciting topics with their students and use that theme to build their students’ appreciation for the process of discovery.
First Year Experience and Career and Community Engagement Center Director, Javita Thompson, said the goal of the new course is to strengthen first year students’ core academic skills, particularly writing, critical reading, and analytical thinking.
“We are also going to introduce them to the learning strategies that will help them to perform college-level work more effectively. The class will also help students to get involved in campus and community activities and programs,” Thompson said.
Another important component of the class will be a focus on diversity, and particularly helping students live, work and study effectively with people who may have very different backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles, beliefs or worldviews from themselves.
Classes are going to focus on having lively discussions and active learning. Each section is also going to have an upper-class peer anchor who will help new students in understanding campus from a student’s perspective. There are between 65 and 70 SU students who are helping to teach the course with their designated faculty member.
The process for the new class has been going on for almost 10 years, and concluded last December when the University Curriculum Committee passed a plan to restructure the general education program called “General Education @ Ship: A Program for Renewal.” The way the university structures its general education program is changing, and the proposal includes a special focus on improving the experience of first year students and helping them to be prosperous, according to Thompson.
“We know that based on research and from listening to our first year students that transitioning from high school to college can be difficult for many people,” Thompson said.
She said college is a dramatic change, and suddenly students are in a new place, away from their friends, families and support networks. The new students are meeting many people at once and trying to understand the complexities of a big institution, all while taking classes with expectations that are often much too different than their high school.
It is both an exciting, and challenging, moment for students who arrive at the university. Thompson and other starters of the program want to make that transition smoother and help more students to be successful.