During my training as an Academic Advisor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS), I learned about the university’s Gateway Program Seminar, or GPS 1010. This first-year seminar is required for all incoming UCCS students.
As an advisor, my role was to assist students in selecting their courses, including GPS. When students asked me why they had to take GPS, my response was typically the same, rehearsed lines: “It is required as part of the curriculum, it teaches skills needed to be successful in college, it will help you learn how to get around campus…” It wasn’t until I started teaching GPS that I understood the magnitude of its importance, not only in students’ success, but in the cultivation of relationships with their classmates and the university.
The first year I taught GPS, I co-taught with a fellow academic advisor and an engineering faculty member. We were assigned a section of GPS for students interested in engineering but who had not been fully admitted to the engineering program. Our curriculum was designed to help new students adapt to the campus community. We also wanted to teach them the skills needed to succeed in college and to earn the grades necessary to gain admission to the engineering program.
As our semester progressed, I observed strong bonds developing between the students: they became quick friends and would take time before and after class to speak with each other, as well as with my co-teachers and me. The class became an environment where we could have an open dialogue about the challenges students faced in their transition from high school to college.
As teachers, we offered guidance and support, while also coaching students on how to speak to faculty when they needed help. We created not just a class, but something more holistic–an opportunity for students to ask questions and learn from one another as a collective cohort. Along the way, I discovered how beneficial it is to have a sense of belonging. The camaraderie between the students was so beautiful to witness because it was organic and genuine: they came in strangers and left as friends.
I have since taught two additional sections of GPS 1010 and each time, the experience was similar. The students began the semester nervous and anxious about the transition to college, and by the end their confidence had grown since they had gained study and coping skills needed to begin their academic and personal journey.
Recently, I left UCCS to become an Academic Advisor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Metro does not require a first-year seminar course, so I provide the following advice to incoming students:
- Find a club or organization to join. This is a great way to make new friends that have similar interests.
- Meet at least one person in each of your courses so you can have an accountability partner and study buddy. College instructors’ expectations are much greater than high school teachers’. When you connect with someone from class, you can use this as an opportunity to learn from and teach one another.
- Introduce yourself to your instructors and learn their office hours. Although this might feel intimidating, if you are comfortable approaching your instructor when you need extra help, you will be more likely to succeed in that course. Instructors have office hours to help students outside of class, so utilize them when needed.
- Attend campus events that mean something to you. They are usually fun and provide opportunities to make more connections outside of the classroom.
- Use campus resources. These include academic advising; counseling and accommodation services; centers for multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion; campus recreation; the library; the dean of students; and the list goes on! These services are included in your tuition, so you might as well use them. If you aren’t sure if there is a particular office or resource out there, ask!
First-year seminars are a wonderful addition to a college student’s experience, but in the absence of one, students can be proactive in making connections and seeking out services that will help them be successful. As recent high school graduates get ready to begin college, they should plan to take full advantage of the opportunities that are provided, especially in their first year.
Lindsey Duthrie works at Metropolitan State University of Denver as an Academic Advising and Retention Specialist. She has been working as an Academic Advisor for six years and earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling, specializing in Student Development in Higher Education.