For a variety of reasons, the first year of college is the most critical when it comes to turning admitted students into graduates. Wingate is making moves this summer to keep students enrolled past their freshman year.
Building and Sustaining Excellence (BASE), a pilot program in 2022, will attempt to provide a small group of incoming freshmen with a smooth transition to college life, with the hope that they’ll be less likely to give up on their degree pursuit early in their college career.
The 24 students who are selected for the invitation-only program will live together for four weeks this summer in Wingate’s newest dorm, taking classes (free of charge) while also participating in a variety of fun on- and off-campus activities. They will be introduced to all of Wingate’s student-support services and will be matched up with a peer mentor, who will live in the same residence hall during the four-week session and will help guide them through their summer courses and then through their first year of college.
Once the academic year begins in late August, the students in the program will continue to live together, and the director of the program, Dr. Chelsea Kaufman, will serve as their advisor.
The idea is to help them adapt to life at a university so they don’t feel overwhelmed, and fall behind, their first semester.
Kaufman, who teaches mainly upper-level courses, has a vested interest in seeing freshmen succeed: She wants to teach them one day. “If students struggle through their first year, they don’t even get to me,” she says.
Students will take P.E. 101, Gateway 101 (a college-readiness course) and Political Science 220, knocking out six credit hours of classes before their peers even move into their residence halls.
Taking college courses in a low-pressure environment should benefit students once they start taking a full load of classes in the fall. The intimidation factor will be reduced, and students will have less worry about falling behind, since they’ll already have banked some credit hours.
“A lot of times students have a bit of an adjustment period when they come here,” Kaufman says. “It’s a really big change in their life, on top of having to adjust to moving to a new place, making new friends, meeting all these new people. If you can have some of those things already out of the way, I think it makes it less overwhelming.”
Gateway 101 is a key part of the BASE curriculum; that class is designed to help students understand how to study, how to seek academic assistance, and in general how to manage the transition to college life.
A big part of being successful in college is knowing when you need help, and where to get it.
“Like at all schools, some students struggle early on when they get here, for a variety of reasons,” Kaufman says. “If they don’t have other people they can go to for help, if they don’t know what resources are available, it can be a really difficult adjustment.”
Kaufman says that learning proper study habits during BASE can help once the academic year starts in late August.
“We hope to help them have the light-bulb moment of, ‘A-ha! This is the best way to study for me,’ while they’re taking only a few classes and have a lot of support, so the transition to a full schedule will be easier,” Kaufman says.
To determine how successful the program is, Kaufman plans to compare data from the 2022 BASE cohort with those from students who have a similar profile but did not go through the program. Initially, that means comparing college GPAs, class withdrawals, semester-on-semester and year-on-year retention, and stints on academic probation.
Ultimately, she can compare graduation rates and the amount of time it took students to graduate.
Kaufman is confident that the program will prove successful. “I don’t see a student giving up their last summer before college if they don’t want to get something out of it,” she says.
BASE joins another University persistence initiative, the First-Gen Bulldog Bridge Program, which is aimed at students who are the first in their families to attend college. Students in that program, which will be in its second year this summer, live on campus for a week before regular Move-In Day and then participate in First-Gen Bulldog-specific program throughout the school year.
May 30, 2022