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Researcher congratulates and challenges faculty

Monday, August 22, 2005

The College of Human Environmental Sciences (HES) at Oklahoma State University used noted researcher, author and consultant Dr. John Gardner to start the new academic year with some sound advice about ways to help new students. Faculty, staff and administrators from across campus were invited to attend Gardner’s presentation held recently at the Wes Watkins Center. Gardner, senior fellow of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina, congratulated HES for its many advances including its new Becky Steen McCaskill Center for Student Success. One of the Center’s stated goals is to “deliver a highly engaging first-year experience for freshman and transfer undergraduates within the College of HES.”

Gardner says the latest research shows that’s exactly what new students want. “They are very engaged or motivated by performing some sort of service, especially the kind that includes academic credit. In fact, what we’re finding is that students tend to give up the notion of serving others if they don’t do it in their first year of college.”

 The formation of Learning Communities that help students develop relationships as well as good study habits by taking two or more classes together is important, according to Gardner.

“That’s also why the peer leaders program within the College of HES is critical; the greatest influence on a student is other students,” he said. The HES College pairs upperclassmen from their Ambassadors student leadership organization with first-year students to provide ongoing mentoring and assistance throughout the first year at OSU. Gardner urged faculty to do what they could as individuals to help students through the first year of college by asking themselves a simple question:

“What do I control that I can change to improve the learning experience for students?” For instance, Gardner suggested that some faculty might be surprised how much it could help if they were honest with students about their own academic track records.

“For instance, I made three Fs, two Ds, and one A as an undergraduate and I am standing here with a doctorate, sharing research. There is hope—and it may help students to know that,” said Gardner. Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First College Year, which is a collection of 13 case studies of high performing institutions.

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