Karen Davis’ ’83, G’90 desire to create a welcoming environment for all has permeated every corner of the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS). Building the college’s career services from the ground up and becoming the assistant dean of…
First-Year Seminar Home College Experience Helps Students Find Belonging
Engineering and computer science students learned about the cultures and traditions of their faculty and fellow students. Students in the School of Information Studies toured campus and got professional headshots. Whitman School of Management students explored clubs and resources. These are just some of the Home College Experiences designed by the University’s schools and colleges to build community and provide opportunities for students to explore interests within their own fields.
While students from across the University are mixed together in the First Year Seminar, Home College Experiences are different. Held in weeks 4, 9 and 12 of the semester, the Home College Experiences bring together students interested in similar majors or disciplines, giving them an opportunity to develop a sense of affinity and belonging.
“No college or school has approached the Home College Experience in exactly the same way,” says Kira Reed, associate professor of management and provost faculty fellow. “It has been really interesting to see the creative ways that disciplines within the University take in pursuit of similar goals.”
“We know that a sense of belonging contributes to student success and retention,” says Chandice Haste-Jackson, interim director of the First Year Seminar. “Activities that promote community, involvement in extracurricular activities and a knowledgeable approach to planning their academic programs are all important for students.”
Deborah Nosky, who helped design the Home College Experience at the iSchool, agrees. As a professor of practice and past director of undergraduate programs, she has a strong sense of what students need to succeed in their first year at Syracuse.
“Based on what we understand about student persistence and success, we tried to structure our Home College Experience so that, first and foremost, students don’t feel alone. They begin to build communities that make sense for them.”
The iSchool is balancing academic and professional needs with less structured activities. “Recognizing that this year’s cohort spent a lot of time in high school isolated due to COVID, we did a tour of campus because many of them were not able to visit in person before they arrived at Syracuse,” says Nosky. ”They were able to understand history and traditions, and they love it because it helps them build a story around their community.” Other activities included a pizza tailgate before a football game, getting a headshot done for their LinkedIn profile and participating in interactive panels with iSchool alumni.
At the Whitman School, Lindsay Quilty, assistant dean for undergraduate programs, adds, “We’ve always done a lot of community-based activities, so making the Whitman Mixer a part of the Home College Experience is a logical extension. This involvement fair allows students to talk to representatives from the school’s undergraduate clubs, understand resources in the school and meet community partners from outside the school to talk about opportunities for students.”
Both schools focused on academic advising and planning in the second Home College Experience. “The timing was just right, because it’s before registration starts. It was an opportunity to work in small groups with the academic advising team to build confidence about how registration works, opportunities they should be looking for and empower students to take responsibility for their program,” says Quilty. Another session focuses on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility from the standpoint of the business world, including how diversity can deliver better business results and how our corporate partners and alumni apply these principles in business.
Nosky says that the iSchool has similar goals, “We have always worked hard to make sure that students understand their academic degree program so they can finish in four years. Employers desperately want to hire our graduates, so we want them on track to succeed.” In addition to describing the three major degree programs and required courses, the iSchool helps students find services that they need to succeed, whether it’s mentoring youth, study strategies, ways to get help with their research and advanced activities or to work with a peer mentor. “One of the keys for us is to help them take an early look at their career goals and shape their academic program to help them meet that goal. That’s where our recent alumni come in. They’re talking to people who graduated three to five years ago so they can take a critical look at their career goals and how to get there,” says Nosky.