You might have heard from your first-year student that we are in the midst of registration for the spring semester. Here is some information that you might find useful about this process.
All students must meet with their faculty advisors before they can register for classes. This is not only an opportunity for faculty advisors to talk with them about courses for the spring, but also a chance to continue discussions about their longer-term goals at Denison. It is, of course, also an opportunity for advisors to “check in” with students to make sure that there are no concerns requiring a response from them or the First Year Office.
First-Year Students register for classes on the evening of Tuesday, November 18. You might hear frustration from your students that they have a late time and concern that they won’t get any of the courses they want. So, here is how the process works. First-year students will register online in three waves at 8:00 p.m, 8:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Each student has been assigned one of these times. Initially students will be allowed to sign up for only two courses. One hour after their initial registration time they will sign up for the next two. We use this process to achieve more equal access to courses. Students should get at least two courses at the very top of their lists. In fact, faculty advisors will help students strategize to ensure that their first two courses are the right ones to pursue initially.
Still, registration can be a stressful time for first-year students. In your conversations with your student, emphasizing that he or she will have a great chance to get two courses “essential” to his or her schedule will help to ease that stress. It is also good to encourage your student to be open-minded about courses that are available. Help your student see the value in taking courses that fall outside of his or her immediate interests. Finally, reassure your undecided student that it is okay not to have a major at this point. Many first-year students do not have one yet. We aren’t panicking about this. Nor should they. We know from past experience that undecided students eventually find the major that is right for them.
By now your students have received their midterm grades. Many of them are doing quite well at this point and our focus for the rest of the semester will be on helping them finish strong. However, some of your students are struggling with meeting Denison’s academic expectations. I have contacted all first-year students with a GPA below a 2.0 informing them that they are required to do two things. The first is to contact and then meet with their faculty advisor. The second is to attend one session of a workshop being conducted by Academic Support and Enrichment this week. Both of these requirements are intended to assist students in taking advantage of the resources available at Denison. Most students who are struggling academically at this time have not yet taken advantage of them.
As you speak to your students whose midterms were less than they hoped, please ask them if they have met with their faculty advisors. If they haven’t, please encourage them to do so. Also, encourage them to speak to their instructors. It is always surprising how many struggling students have not done this, and yet this is a key element in their academic success. Faculty expect students to meet with them and can often see it as a lack of engagement if they do not. Suggesting that students meet with Academic Support and Enrichment to work on study skills, time management, etc. is also a good option, as is directing them towards me. The message we want to send is that they do not need to do it alone. We are here to help, but they need to take the first step by asking for it.
Midterm grades are one indication of a student’s academic transition to this point. They tell part of the story, but not all of it. When they are disappointing we want students to take responsibility for improving them; however, we also want to avoid having them regard good midterm grades as a reason to coast. Together we can support them so that they all experience academic success this first semester.
As we begin the first full week of the semester, I could use your help with a couple issues that typically arise for first-year students. These issues might come up in your conversations with your students.
They might, for instance, be concerned about their class schedule. They may be saying that they don’t really want to be in a particular course or that their workload seems more than they can handle. This is a good opportunity to encourage them to see their faculty advisors. If they need to be drop a course and add another, they need to do this as soon as possible, and faculty advisors are the people to see to start this process. While students have until the end of the next week to add a class, we know that students who wait this long often struggle in the class they add. They simply miss too much work right from the start. If your student is concerned that his or her schedule is too difficult, but wants to remain in his or her classes, a meeting with his or her faculty advisor is also an opportunity to learn more about the resources Denison has for academic support.
Students might also be experiencing homesickness or having difficulty adjusting to campus life. One way to help is to encourage them to look for ways to become involved. On Thursday, they will have the opportunity to participate in the Involvement Fair from 4-6 pm on the Academic Quad. This is where they can learn about the student groups on campus and how they can join them. Students who are having difficulty connecting to campus or finding a peer group will begin to feel more comfortable as they become more involved.
I am, of course, always available to meet with first-year students. Don’t hesitate to encourage your student to meet with me if I can help with these issues or with any others that arise.
President Weinberg has published an article in Inside Higher Ed where he argues for re-conceiving residential halls as opportunities for civic learning. You can find the article at http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/09/13/essay-calls-more-ambitious-concept-residence-life.