First-year student seminar class helps freshmen connect on campus

Imran Majid

When Professor Peter Baird took his first-year student seminar class on a Peak Adventures rock climbing expedition in the spring, he was concerned the rainy weather would cause problems.

Baird was happy to see his class of 25 freshman work together as a unit through the difficult activity, and nobody was sick or hurt. 

“The stated goal (of the class) is to gain a foothold of what it means to be an educated person,” Baird said. “I think the goal of the class is to create friendships, to create relationships with faculty and support systems on campus and to look ahead and make a plan for yourself that makes sense. And finally, to see yourself as part of a community.”

The first-year student seminar course is offered to freshman at Sacramento State and explores the requirements and responsibilities of becoming a university educated person.

Sixty different first-year student seminar courses were offered last fall and served 1,330 freshmen, which made up 42 percent of the 2012 freshman class. These classes, which always fall under the class number 21, were housed in 16 departments across campus and in every college.

Approximately 50 first-year student sections, in a variety of departments across campus, will be offered in the fall.

“Any time you’re starting something new, especially something as big as going to a university, there are issues during the transition period,” said Director of First Year Experience Programs Deidre Sessoms. “Let’s face it, Sac State is a big school, so one of the most important things new students can do is to get connected to (and) become engaged in activities on campus.”

Sessoms said research shows students who take part in certain high impact practices, such as joining first-year seminar courses and learning communities, participating in service learning and engaging in the One Book program, graduate sooner and have better grades than students who do not.  

“Part of becoming an educated person and part of a liberal education is rubbing shoulders, visiting during office hours, getting involved in student activities (and) reading the campus newspaper,” Baird said. “Being involved with the major issues.” 

Baird, who taught the course twice beginning last fall, said there are several economic and political issues involving freshmen in today’s society, such as having a job and being forced to obtain a student loan. 

Baird said the class helps freshman understand the challenging maze of college life, including shortage of classes, cutbacks in faculty and staff and impacted majors, such as pre-nursing. 

“They’re paying much more (than ten years ago) and they’re getting less,” Baird said. “There are less options. There’s less people available. I feel bad about that.”

Baird said the students he encounters handle the issues with good humor, and are eager to adapt and take them on. 

Several activities in the class help freshmen become more integrated into college life, such as campus tours and attending plays. Others help build friendships through bowling or Peak Adventures activities.  

A first-year college experience survey conducted by the Office of Institutional Research in the spring found that 87 percent of respondents stated it was either “very easy” or “somewhat easy” to utilize campus services available to students. 

But only 54 percent of respondents said the same about managing their time effectively. 

The First-Year Seminar Program is part of the First-Year Experience Program, which aims to improve the retention and graduation rates of students.

The program consists of the seminar and several other courses. Co-curricular activities embedded in classes are designed to increase student engagement with the campus. Peer mentors attend courses with first-year students to provide personal, academic and advising support.

“If they want freshmen and transfer students to be successful, they need to give them information right away,” Baird said. “Treat them like adults (and) tell them the challenges.”