First Year Seminar Promotes Student Success in College and Beyond

Success. How does one achieve it at college, in the professional world … in life?

The College of Southern Maryland is working to help its students find answers to those questions at the onset of their college career. Last fall, CSM began offering its First Year Seminar (FYS), a course described by its creators to students as “one of the most important and engaging courses you will take.” The FYS is designed to foster skills in time management, studying, communication, career exploration, self-awareness, critical thinking, and appreciation of collaboration and diversity.

“We want to give students tools to navigate college once they come through our doors and the ability to navigate once they leave our doors,” said CSM Academic Affairs Vice President Dr. Eileen Abel. “We want to prepare the student for success with us and beyond us.”

Off to the Right Start

CSM digital media production student Ramiro Forty, 20, of White Plains, a student in one of the inaugural FYS sections, said he was unsure of the value of the new, unknown course at the beginning of the semester. “I am independent,” he said. “I came here sure that I could get through college.” By the end of the semester, however, Forty was describing the course as “rewarding.”

“Surprisingly, it has been fun,” he said. “We talk about important topics — diversity, culture, communications. I will take what I learned here and use it throughout my college experience.”

Another fall semester FYS student, Shelby Stachura, 17, of Indian Head, is a high school senior on full-time college waiver at CSM. “I learned how to be successful in life,” Stachura said of FYS. “I learned how to manage my time more effectively and think at a higher level.”

Stachura said she started college unsure of what kind of career she should pursue and anxious about her lack of direction. However, Stachura said the class’ work on self-reflection and hearing her professor’s own winding path of education and careers eased that anxiety about her future.

“It gave me hope that I will find my way also,” Stachura said.

FYS Design as a Group Project
Funded through a Title III grant, CSM’s FYS course was created through a multi-divisional effort. A steering committee overseeing the course’s design began work in January 2016, gathering information about what other colleges are doing to initiate freshman. The committee researched similar courses offered nationally and internationally, attended conferences and invited experts in the First Year Experience as guest speakers to the college, including the authors of the textbook ultimately selected for the CSM course.

The trend for colleges and universities to provide a course like FYS began in the 1970s, when universities were seeking a way to address the holistic needs of students rather than just academic needs. Despite the decades that have passed since the value of this kind of course was established, it remains less common for community colleges like CSM to offer something like a FYS. Abel instigated the creation of the course for CSM and steering committee members are on board, believing that CSM students will benefit.

“It promotes engagement with the student,” said CSM Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Dr. Jessica Chambers, a steering committee member. “It helps with success, retention and engagement.”

“It is about what we could do to better meet the needs of our students,” said Assistant Professor and committee member Shaneeza Kazim.

The committee designed CSM’s FYS to be interactive. And that interaction extends to interaction among students, not just with the instructor. In addition, the steering committee wanted to ensure that the classes would be small enough to allow that kind of open communication. Thus, the class is limited to 24 students.

“This isn’t a lecture class. It is an activity-, discussion-based class,” Abel said.

The creation of the course took a great deal of research, time, effort and energy, Kazim said. “We’re all excited … It’s unlike anything CSM has ever done.”

Professors from all disciplines — math, biology, English, social sciences, — applied to teach one of the 28 sections in the inaugural semester of FYS. The steering committee selected instructors from those applicants that were “passionate” about student success, said CSM Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Rob Farinelli.

“The experience was rewarding and gratifying … to see how one student, who seldom smiled or talked during class participation, ended up blossoming toward the end of the semester,” said CSM Instructional Designer Keisha Patterson, one of the FYS instructors at the Leonardtown Campus. “If I can help change one student’s negative thought into a positive connection, the course was worth it.”

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