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An Out-Of-Classroom Educational Experience: The First Year Core Program at Fordham University

By Scott Halstead, Assistant Director of Leadership Development and Training at Fordham University at Rose Hill

First year students come to college with boundless energy and enthusiasm for the college experience. They are excited to be free from the rules of their parents and are eager to become adults. Unfortunately, first year students often do not have the maturity and skills to make this jump as quickly as they believe. They often need help with transition to these freedoms. Because of this reality Fordham University at Rose Hill created the First Year Core Programming Series.

All first year students at Fordham are required to attend three programming sessions during their first month at school on the topics of security, alcohol and drug education and campus assault and relationship education. A more detailed description of each of these programs follows.

The Fordham Director of Security presents this session. Fordham is an urban campus and therefore requires students to pay extra attention to their surroundings. The Director of Security discusses how students can remain safe in the community and the services that the Office of Security provides to students to help keep them safe.

Alcohol and Drug Education
The Director of the Student Assistance Program presents this session. This session focuses on the reality that students are going to be confronted by alcohol and other drugs and discusses the choices that students make. This session also exposes students to the alcohol peer education and other alcohol education programs at the University.

Campus Assault and Relationship Education
The Director of Residential Life, Associate Director of Judicial Affairs or the Director of the Student Health Center presents this session. This session focuses on the responsibility students have in their relationships with other members of the community. Specifically, it focuses on campus policies and state laws regarding sexual assault and rape. Students discuss the role that intoxication can play in their sexual decision-making. Sources of support for students who have been assaulted are shared. Clarification of campus and state laws regarding rape and sexual assault are also discussed.

All first year students are required to attend one program from each of the above. Three to four programs are offered in each first year residence hall. This takes tremendous commitment on the part of the presenters, as they must each present their topic at least fifteen times to cover all first year buildings. Students are first notified of this requirement at summer orientation and it is again addressed at their first floor meeting on move in day. Students are encouraged to attend the programs presented in their buildings but can choose to attend programs in other buildings.

The first year programming core can be logistically challenging to organize. Since students are required to attend these programs we are responsible for tracking attendance and communicating clearly with students. The resident assistants are the most important link to a successful outcome. If resident assistants are proactive by talking to their residents in advance, posting signs on their floors, and reminding students the day of programs, the Core Programming series runs much more smoothly. We have also hired one resident director to help administer the program and to be a central collection point for information and paperwork.

Of course, because the program is required there are accountability systems built into the program if students do not attend sessions. If a student does not complete a program area they are required to write a five-page research paper on the topic they missed. Students are given ample time to complete the paper (usually until the start of school in the spring). If a student still does not complete the requirement they are then given a second extension on their paper. If they still do not complete the paper they are removed from the housing lottery process for the next fall. This does not mean they are removed from housing but rather that they are placed in housing (possibly not of their choice) after all housing lottery sessions have been completed. First year students often do not understand what being removed from lottery means so extra effort is made to explain the impact this can have. This usually motivates students to complete their programs. In a typical year only 15 students (out of 1000) are removed from housing lottery.

We have also found that the successful first year core program requires communication and collaboration with athletics. Many of the fall semester athletes find it challenging to attend sessions because of practices, games and study halls. Gaining the commitment of the athletic department has been a key in the success of this program for our athletes. Athletic administrators and coaches are able to work with athletes to find specific dates that students can attend programs, which assists athletes in completing the program requirements.

Of course, this program is not flawless. It is extremely taxing on presenters and administrators who run the program. The groups are also not small enough to generate the kind of small group discussions we would like to have. What the programs are able to accomplish, however, is to begin the out of classroom educational experience for our students.

About the Author

Scott Halstead is Assistant Director for Leadership Development and Training at Fordham University at Rose Hill in New York City. Scott received his M.S. in College Student Personnel Services from Miami University in 1991. He worked at the University of Vermont for seven years as a complex coordinator, assistant to the director and assistant director of student life before coming to Fordham in 2001.