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Program aids academic adjustment at Saint Mary’s

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, August 21, 2003

In the midst of a sometimes unsettling shift after high school, first-year students often find themselves unsure of what to expect as they advance to the realm of college and university life.To make the transition more comfortable for incoming students, Saint Mary’s Office of Academic Affairs combats uncertainty by implementing a flexible procedure to help counsel their academic paths.The office encourages first-year students to take between 16 to 18 credit hours in the fall semester to assist in a productive transition from high school to college.While they are able to select from a curriculum offering various course options, all freshmen are required to enroll in a minimum of four classes as components of the College’s general education program. General education courses that students typically choose in their first year include a foreign language, writing, math, humanities and social science.Students are encouraged to enroll in classes they find interesting during their first semester, said Susan Vanek, director of the Office of First Year Studies.”We advise students to take what they’re interested in because it does make the transition easier,” Vanek said. “The first year for students can be a little overwhelming. They all do fine in the end, but sometimes it would be easier and less overwhelming to start with courses they like.”Vanek said that students should wait until the spring semester or their sophomore year to take increasingly difficult courses. “Something that might be difficult for them may be easier for them later when they develop more college-level skills,” she said.With that in mind, the First Year of Studies office allows students the flexibility to design a fairly personalized schedule with a variety of courses to complement the two courses that all freshmen are required to complete by the end of the spring semester.One such course is the Writing Proficiency, popularly referred to as the “W.” Saint Mary’s requires that all students, regardless of major, must complete the course before graduating. The Writing Proficiency is obtained after enrolling in a designated course and, upon completing the course, submitting essays and work from the semester for professor review. If a student does not pass the review, they are given an opportunity to enroll in other designated courses until successfully obtaining the proficiency. This is one reason why the Office of Academic Affairs highlights to students the importance of getting an early start, Vanek said. A second reason, she said, is the preparation that it gives to basic collegiate level writing skills and to the advanced writing proficiency, completed in a student’s third or fourth year.”In all courses at Saint Mary’s, students are going to be writing.” Vanek said. “It’s essential to good communication and good thinking, so we think it’s important for them to hone in on their writing skills early because they’re going to be doing more and more of it. It’s such a basic requirement; that’s why we recommend it the first year.”A final requirement for freshmen is an Introduction to Information Technology course that meets twice each semester. The course is designed as a seminar/workshop that introduces students to and provides awareness of campus technology.These requirements, coupled with general education and elective courses, are what Vanek and others in Academic Affairs said lead first year students to successful academic careers while students at Saint Mary’s. “We try to emphasize in the first year that the general education program is a wonderful basis for choosing majors and for beginning this broad based background, where students are learning to analyze and develop different skills.”