UNM celebrates a milestone in a nearly three year effort to improve the experience of first-year students. The Foundations of Excellence project involved more than 200 faculty members, staff and students who volunteered in the self-study of the first college year.

The project began in September 2012, in collaboration with the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. A luncheon, attended by members of the UNM community who worked on the project and state senators Jacob Candelaria and Benny Shendo, reviewed many of the improvements on the first year experience instituted by the university. The changes involve academics, student support and research as it impacts freshmen.

UNM freshmen will benefit from changes in new student orientation. Chair of the redesign committee, Sonia Rankin, spoke about the importance of preparing students for the academic challenges they will face at UNM, and setting them up to meet those challenges.

In the classroom, first-year students may encounter the expanded offerings of Freshman Learning Communities, or the new English stretch and studio courses. Beginning this fall, English 101 stretch and studio courses will completely replace the non-credit-bearing introductory studies English course. Mark Peceny, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, spoke at the luncheon about the importance of the new English courses, as well as the Math Learning Lab (MaLL), which is in its second year.

The FoE project leader, Joe Suilmann, provided an overview of a number of other highlights from the past year, which include efforts to improve communication to first-year students, streamline curriculum, provide maps for degree programs, develop an early alert system to connect students to resources, and make support easier for students to find through the Student Success Centers in Mesa Vista and Casas del Rio, and the new students.unm.edu website.

“We know that the majority of UNM students who stop out do so during their first three semesters, and getting them on a path toward graduation needs to happen early,” said UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah, “The Foundations of Excellence was our collective response to this, beginning with President Frank, and including all those who took part in this process.”