My Experience with High Impact Practices
While I didn’t know it at the time, my first year at the University of Mary Washington was the end of one era and the beginning of another. Our class was the last year that the First-Year Seminars (FSEMs) were not associated with residence halls and could be taken in either semester your first year. I went to college and ended up taking an FSEM my second semester about Infographics. Honestly, I got extremely little out of it. I thought the class was incredibly boring, it was all busy work, and the class felt very disorganized. Most importantly I felt like the purpose, to help me prepare for college, was lost because I had already successfully navigated my way through my first semester. In that class I often found myself frustrated because the class felt like a waste of time. I don’t think that is how all First-Year seminars are like, but that was how my peers and I felt. . My performance as a student in that class was subpar and while it was never especially hard work I had a hard time finding the motivation to do it and ended up not doing as well as I should have. Our professor was nice and tried to help us as much as she could. However, I don’t think many professors could have made that class feel worthwhile
When I became an Orientation Leader/Peer Mentor later that year it was in the middle of them overhauling the FSEM experience. They changed it so that the majority of First-Year students would be sign up for their FSEMs as part of the housing selection. That meant that the FSEMs were now connected to where students lived, and they would be living near the other 15 members of their class. They also changed the requirement so that students had to take it their first year and made all of the programming during Welcome Week be assigned by FSEM. Each FSEM had a faculty member and a peer mentor associated with them. Being a Peer Mentor during this process was challenging at times because there was some push back from incoming students, difficulty finding the best way to do things, and all of the other challenges associated with creating a new program.
Ultimately, after being a Peer Mentor for three years I realize that this was a much more effective way of having these FSEMS. This isn’t to say that the FSEM program at UMW is incredible and free of challenges. In the three years I was a Peer Mentor I often struggled with getting some of my students engaged and willing to do things together as a group. However, I think the experience for the students who were willing to participate was much greater than the experiences have by first year classes before them. Creating space for students to have shared experiences in and out of the classroom, while simultaneously helping them excel at the same time is an incredibly impactful practice.