The Class of 2018 was the first cohort at the University of New Mexico to participate in ExceedU, a new program designed for incoming freshmen. Drawing from the results of the Foundations of Excellence (FOE) project, Dean of Students, Enrollment Management and University College’s Academic Communities Program, a more effective 'rite of passage' was developed for freshmen, where they are not only welcomed to the UNM community, but celebrated and supported.
The academic expectations can be overwhelming to a freshman. Compared to high school, college courses tend to shift away from memorization and rote learning, toward research, analysis and objective evaluation.
Freshmen also face new social and emotional experiences and responsibilities. They worry about being smart enough, making friends, roommates, staying safe and financial concerns. But mostly they worry about being alone and unsupported. For this reason a large percentage of freshmen do not make it to sophomore year.
FOE creates First Year Steering Committee
FOE created the ongoing task force, First Year Steering Committee (FYSC), which has been studying ways to reach first year students. One of those efforts studied best practices at other universities across the country and found, among other things, that maintaining dialogue with freshmen throughout the first year is key. “We forget that most freshmen come to Student Orientation, leave after the session, and then start school with no real time to familiarize themselves with campus and college culture,” said Sonia Rankin, associate dean of University College. To help address this concern, ExceedU was created.
ExceedU is a two-day academic preparedness set of workshops on everything from how to handle finances and staying healthy to college level writing and research tips. The committee noted that many universities also require freshman to take courses that offer sound ways to make the transition to college life easier. UNM offers three credit academically centered courses designed to help students transition into life and learning at UNM through the Transition Communities Program.
A student experience
“Over the course of two days, ExceedU presented me with the kind of information that generally determines a student’s success in college,” said freshman, Sonny C. Haquani. “I pride myself on being prepared, and was surprised by how many available resources I hadn’t known about, simple things like what a student can do to get the best grade, and how to create an application for work-study. In addition to academic information, the program introduced me to many of the extracurricular programs that make college such a great experience.”
“ExceedU gives freshmen a jump-start on their academic experience and helps them understand what it means to be a first year student at UNM,” Rankin said. “We explain that their first job is to learn and to not get sidetracked by new and competing factors. We make them aware of all the resources and strategies available to help them reach ambitious academic goals and exceed their own expectations. We also try to instill in them an appreciation for where they are, and what it means to be part of a flagship institution, a research institution, and impress upon them that they have the support of the faculty, staff and other students to reach their full potential.”
Rankin added that over 30 campus partners came together in support of the freshmen, including the UNM Bookstore, New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union, UNM Food-Chartwells and, of course, faculty and staff. “Not one person we asked turned us down” Rankin said. “Staff worked hard and stayed late and faculty came in before the start of semester, prepared with helpful lectures and advice. Everyone came together for the ExceedU pilot program. It was truly inspiring to witness the level of caring and generosity aimed at welcoming and helping this year’s freshmen.”
“ExceedU is free and aimed at preparing students for success,” Haquani said. “By the end of the two-day program, I realized the underlying message, "Commit to the college experience, and you'll meet with success!"