Focus on 90 days for student success

August 26, 2009 | News
By Kim Goodin

Ninety days.

For most, it’s a snippet of time in the bigger picture of life. How much impact could three months possibly have?

According to Dr. Kaye Patten Wallace, vice president for student affairs, the initial 90 days of a first-year college student’s experience can be a make-it-or-break-it period.

“Research shows the first year of college has a crucial impact on students’ likelihood for not only staying in school, but for being successful, as well,” Patten Wallace said. “We’re focusing on our first-year students’ initial 90 days — the decisions they make, habits they develop, and level of participation they have on campus.”

Patten Wallace and the Division of Student Affairs team are focused on providing resources, support and services that will give students optimal opportunities for success. These resources include a Web site that displays the photos, names and contact information for members of the Student Affairs team, as well as several targeted programs designed to assist students with academic and social adjustment.

The site can be accessed at

Currently, Patten Wallace noted, UT’s retention rate from students’ freshman to sophomore years is 70 percent. Several factors can determine how well a first-year student adjusts to college life. These include:

• Academic preparedness;

• Time management skills;

• Ability to handle responsibility;

• Connectivity to environment;

• Social skills; and

• Decisions regarding alcohol and other substance use.

“Every freshman student who comes here has the potential to be impacted by something that affects their decision-making,” said Margaret Traband, interim executive director and vice provost, UT Learning Collaborative. “We don’t want students to give up on their dreams because they didn’t get the help they needed during the first few months of college.”

From an academic standpoint, Traband recommends Carlson Library as a vital point of contact. With its specialties such as the Writing Center, math tutoring and a vast array of research resources, it can be a productive base for all students.

“Last spring semester alone, more than 15,000 tutoring sessions were conducted in the Learning Enhancement Center in the Edith Rathbun Cove,” Traband said. “If a student needs help with any facet of academics, the library is a good starting point.”

Sometimes having a peer who has already experienced the travails of freshman year is helpful. First-year students can be matched with mentors through the Rocket-2-Rocket Program for academic, social and cultural guidance.

“Our peer mentorship programs connect students with seasoned upperclassmen to take them by the hand, so to speak, and guide them through some of the bumps in the road,” Patten Wallace said. “We have a variety of programs that match students and mentors by academic fields, social interests and other common interests.”

Although social interaction can be healthy, pitfalls can hamper not only academic performance, but other parts of students’ lives, as well. A national study released in March reported that during fall semester of 2008, more than 68 percent of respondents — all first-year college students — drank alcohol. Those who reported using alcohol drank an estimated 10.2 hours per week, yet studied 8.4 hours during the same time period.

The data was collected from 30,183 students who participated in “AlcoholEdu® for College,” an online course offered by Outside the Classroom. This year, UT’s first-year students are required to participate in “AlcoholEdu” as part of an introductory course called Beginning the Academic Journey.

“AlcoholEdu is a tool that combines education and myth-busting with facts, as opposed to students’ preconceived conceptions about alcohol,” said Jo Campbell, director of residence life. “Many students have the notion that all of their peers drink or drink excessively, but statistics don’t back that up.”

First-year students also will receive anonymous feedback through a program called MAP-Works, which is another tool offered through Beginning the Academic Journey and the Learning Collaborative.

Students will be asked a series of questions relating to academics, socialization, lifestyle and coping mechanisms. Results of the survey, which takes about 20 minutes to complete, will be sent to each respondent in the form of an interactive program. A report of each student’s answers will recommend areas where assistance may be needed and provide campus resources.

The surveys will be e-mailed by the end of August, with responses required by mid-September.

“When we look at what makes students successful, it’s a combination of how they do in class and how they do outside the classroom,” Patten Wallace said. “We’ve brought our vast team of resources together to address the challenges some of our first-year students may encounter.

“Student success is our goal. The help is there. All our students need to do is ask.”

For more information regarding programs for first-year students, contact Patten Wallace at or call the Division of Student Affairs at 419.530.2665.

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