Even at a small university like Oglethorpe, the first-year college experience can leave new students feeling isolated — especially for the more than 40% of OU students who are the first in their families to attend college. Fortunately, the new First-Year Seminar was created to help new students get acclimated to college life, foster connections with their peers and faculty and thrive throughout their academic journey.
Though iterations of a “first-year experience” have existed at Oglethorpe in various forms, last year marked the beginning of the newest version of the program, which featured a new key feature: peer and faculty mentorship.
First-Year Seminar is comprised of two parts: a semester-long class project led by faculty and “navigating Oglethorpe” tasks led by a peer mentor. Students were grouped by related program areas called “meta-majors” to help students begin to network with like-minded peers. As students worked with faculty to complete their projects, they regularly met with peer mentors to learn about university programs and events, make a four-year plan, set goals and explore the city.
“I would also help the students if they needed to be supported in any way,” says peer mentor Julian Moore. “I was someone the students could talk to privately about their personal and academic lives if they were not comfortable sharing with their professors. My role was to connect with the students on a more personal level that their professors may not be able to provide, so they would feel more comfortable navigating through Oglethorpe.”
Example topics of last year’s First-Year Seminar courses included: “Can we reduce landfill waste from Oglethorpe University through improved recycling practices?”, “What does it mean to live an examined professional life?” and “How can we, as students, contribute to the artistic expression of the Atlanta community?”
Out of the “artistic expression” course — taught by Assistant Professor of Art Christina Price Washington — came a new initiative coming to fruition this year. After exploring Atlanta to better acquaint themselves with its rich cultural and artistic heritage, first-year students in this class designed a mural to be installed at the MARTA station just down the road from the Oglethorpe University campus. With designs already completed — and currently on view in the Turner Lynch Campus Center Trustee room — installation is expected to begin later this year.
First-year students are expected to check in with faculty advisors at least once a month outside of classes to receive academic advising. As first-year students move on from their first-year programs and navigate their OU journeys, these faculty members will continue to be a source of support via regular check-ins.
“Enroll in FYS no matter what; it is a game changer,” says peer mentor Adeline Horton. “It allows you to meet people within your field of study, develop good habits, receive one-on-one coaching, and attend special events the university hosts exclusively for FYS students. Having a close relationship with a professor during your first college semester is a unique experience. It can benefit you in the future when it comes time for internships, recommendation letters for grad school, and just professional advice in general.”
About the First-Year Seminar
First-Year Seminar was made possible through generous funding from the Goizueta Foundation. In 2021, Oglethorpe stakeholders submitted a proposal to the foundation for $1.05 million to support student success and comprehensive advising. This included supporting Oglethorpe faculty serving as academic mentors for students, with the goal of providing mentorship to every student after three years. The proposal was accepted in fall of that year.
In spring 2022, the recently-formed “Sense of Belonging” subcommittee on the university’s inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force identified conceptualized a new-and-improved “first year experience” to help new OU students acclimate and better navigate college life.
This new iteration of the First-Year seminar unites the goals of the Goizueta grant and the “Sense of Belonging” subcommittee’s inclusion goals, which will support both students and faculty mentors.