The University of New Mexico's University College has created new programs to not only assist freshmen academically in their first year, but to also help them feel empowered by their education.

Academic Foundations courses are designed to help students needing additional support in reading and math, and are intended to deliver not only content, but also to help students develop self-directed learning. 

These courses replace what had been Introductory Studies-Math (IS-M) and Introductory Studies-Reading at UNM. The fall offerings include ten sections of Critical Text Analysis, serving 250 students, 25 sections of Quantitative Reasoning, serving 600 students, and 5 sections of Math Learning Strategies I, serving 125 students.

As it relates to the Quantitative Reasoning course, University College has created some innovative ways to help with student success. “In the past, students were placed in what had been Introductory Studies-Math (IS-M) because of ACT scores, but ACT scores are not always indicative of a student’s ability to do more advanced work,” said Sonia Gipson-Rankin, associate dean for curriculum and program development of University College. Yet, if they score low in math, they have to take this course. But, we believe that with support our students can succeed. We have added two times in the semester where students can test out of that course early and move into Math 101 content.”

In the past, students spent the entire semester in IS-M; but now, if in the first two weeks, students pass a proficiency exam, they can drop Quantitative Reasoning and enroll in Math 101. And should it take longer than two weeks, and a student buckles down and gets the content, they can take the exam mid-semester to transition into the next math course. It’s built into the program like a self-paced curriculum to get them where they need to be. But, that is not the only support that has been added. Upperclassmen have been embedded in all Academic Foundations courses to help students and assist instructors.

Peer Mentor Tutors
Peer Mentor Tutors, one of the newest units in the program, will embed five mentors into the Quantitative Reasoning and Critical Text Analysis classes to tutor students in math, reading, and transitioning to college. 

Upperclassmen, working with the College Enrichment Program (CEP), will mentor students not only in content but also in a holistic approach to thinking about their college experience: how to get better organized; better prepared; deal with outside stressors that impact learning; balancing all that and more.

Students will be required to go to CAPS workshops on time management, and note and testing taking, giving them exposure to all the things that will make them successful. “We believe, given that it’s a self-paced environment, that several students will find that they only need a quick boost to get on track,” Rankin said. “Others will have the benefit of the semester and a built-in support network to teach them all the ins and outs of how to be successful in college.”

"This is a very exciting time in University College, as we work on offering innovative ways to expose students to these skills their first semester in college. With these experiences and skills, they will be inspired to create a better tomorrow for themselves, our university and society." – Sonia Gipson-Rankin, associate dean, curriculum and program development

Transition Communities
Transition Communities (TC) offers ten courses designed to prepare students in critical thinking, problem solving and personal and social responsibilities. The courses are for unique cohorts such as College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), architecture, exploratory majors and student athletes. This summer, TC offered 3 sections, two for students enrolled in Ethnic Center summer bridge programs (African American Student Services and American Indian Student Services) and student athletes. Fifty students were served this summer and 183 students have enrolled for the fall semester. “This is our second year working with African American Student Services and African American students from the program last year had an 87 percent 3rd semester retention rate. This is fantastic and we were excited to expand our course into the American Indian Summer Bridge program,” Rankin said. 

Big Questions
Big Question courses offer first-year students an opportunity to explore the breadth and depth of unique topic areas. It give students an opportunity to engage in inquiry and analysis, and to consider throughout their freshman year, answers to some of the world’s biggest questions. The courses are taught by UNM faculty who specialize in cutting edge topic areas. There are no special requirements for freshman to take Big Question courses and all count towards UNM graduation. Courses in this program also count for students who plan to enroll into Innovation Academy. Big Question courses include:

How Do You Know What You Know
Within the university setting, there are many different ways of thinking about what it means to know something. The tools that, for example, a poet, political scientist, and physicist bring to bear on acquiring knowledge are greatly different. In this course, students take a close look at different ways of knowing. Guest speakers from across UNM guide students through the different ways of seeking knowledge that are represented within the university. Two courses will be taught by Jamal Martin, director of Peace Studies and a Lecturer in Africana Studies and Family and Community Medicine, and Christine Smith, an instructor in BioChemistry.

Race in the Digital Age
This course, taught by Rankin, explores how technologies are linked to society, culture and identity in complex and important ways. It investigates the relevance of race, gender, class, identity and the “cultural capital” that one can spend in our Digital Age economy. It helps students develop the four c’s of 21st century learning: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication. Students will visit with tech startup firms and discover how they are incorporate cultural realities in the development of their product. Activities include video production, field trips, gaming, and participating in StartUp Weekends, Tech FiestaABQ and Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Management of Disasters
Laura Banks of Emergency Medicine in the School of Medicine teaches Management of Disasters. It introduces students to the professional field of emergency management and examines how communities plan for natural disasters, disease outbreaks and acts of terrorism and mass violence. They learn how to assess the risks that are tied to human geography and where we live. The UNM campus will serve as the real-life community for this course and students will work closely with the UNM Emergency Manager to evaluate and manage campus risks. Upon completion of the course, students will be eligible to become members of the Campus Community Emergency Response Team. Assignments will include written evaluation of campus risks and creation of potential solutions, the use of GPS and GIS technologies to visualize and map risks, and vulnerabilities and team projects.

Social Media Marketing
In this course, students examine the current media landscape and strategic opportunities and challenges to marketers concerned with how to efficiently and effectively promote brands to existing and potential customers. The primary focus is on understanding alternative social media platforms, how to build social media marketing strategies and how to track their effectiveness. This course also provides students with an introduction to library research and introduces important professional skills necessary for a successful university experience, as well as entry into the job market. John Benavidez of the Anderson School of Management, is excited to offer this course to freshman, really focusing on teaching first-year students how their interests can turn into published research.

“Students entering the 21st century work force need courses that prepare them for a diverse environment that will require they come with strong communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity,” Rankin said. “This is a very exciting time in University College, as we work on offering innovative ways to expose students to these skills their first semester in college. With these experiences and skills, they will be inspired to create a better tomorrow for themselves, our university and society.”