Happy 40th birthday, University 101
By Megan Sexton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-1421
Ian Steen did not take University 101 when he started as a freshman at the University of South Carolina. He made up for it during his junior year, when he became a peer leader for the class that introduces first-year students to life on the Carolina campus.
“I learned things about the campus as a peer leader that I hadn’t learned in the two years I had been here. I fell in love with the University 101 program,” said Steen, of Dartmouth, Mass. “Without that course, you can’t get everything out of USC that you should get out of USC.”
Steen walked across the stage at the Colonial Life Arena at Saturday’s (Aug. 4) commencement ceremony, earning his degree in management from the Darla Moore School of Business. He also heard the words of commencement speaker John Gardner, the former director of University 101 and founder of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. It was Gardner who made USC an international leader in improving students’ freshman-year experience.
The course Gardner helped create 40 years ago, now known as University 101, is a three-credit, first-year seminar that offers resources in areas such as time management, study skills and career exploration. It not only eases students’ transition to college life, but also improves their grades, self-esteem, retention and graduation rates. University 101 became the model for first-year seminars around the world, with most colleges and universities now implementing some variation of the program he started in Columbia. The program is consistently named by U.S. News and World Report as a “program to look for.”
“There are very few innovations in higher education that are long-lasting, widespread and that become universally acknowledged best practices. This program is one of them,” said Dennis Pruitt, USC’s vice president for student affairs. “It began as a program to assist faculty to become better teachers and to assist students to become better learners. It has developed into a high-impact practice to create not just successful first-year students, but successful graduates, instilled with good habits of head, heart and hands and lifelong skills.
“University 101 is an international program of distinction,” he said.
Dan Friedman, the director of University 101, believes the class helps ease what can be a daunting transition from high school to college.
“There is so much we want students to know to be successful,” Friedman said. “Many schools try to pack it into a two-day orientation and then say, ‘Good luck.’ At USC we’ve developed this smart model to give students the information they need at the time they need it and when they are ready to hear it.”
The class also gives students a network of peers who are going through similar challenges at the same time.
“It fosters a sense of belonging and connection to the university and it validates what they are going through. They know they are not the only ones who are homesick, they are not the only ones thinking of changing their majors,” he said.
Plus, it often is credited with helping create close-knit friendships that last throughout college.
“University 101 brings everyone together,” said Steen, who as a peer leader served as a mentor and role model to first-year students in the class. “When I told somebody I was a peer leader, so many times they would say, ‘My roommate and I met in my University 101 class.’ ”
Steen said the class not only introduces students to each other but also to programs around the university. “I didn’t know how big the Strom (wellness and fitness center) was or all the extracurricular programs it offered. I didn’t know you could take dance or Zumba there. And I got to learn so much about the history of the school.”
Gathering that knowledge of the university – with class topics covering everything from Healthy Carolina food offerings to public safety awareness to career planning opportunities – is a mainstay of University 101.
“USC is a fantastic place with so many opportunities. University 101 helps students understand all the university has to offer,” Friedman said. “We can help students make a plan to maximize their four years at USC.”
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