New online orientation strengthens sense of belonging among new students

Incoming freshman students at UC Santa Cruz, aligned with the redesigned online-only campus, reported a strong sense of belonging as they completed the creditable course.

The survey, prepared by the faculty that developed the course in collaboration with Institutional Research, Assessment and Policy Studies, reported significant increases in self-efficacy among students, both first-generation and ongoing-generation, in areas of undergraduate education , including the ability to find campus resources, course selection, time management and the ability to interact with colleagues, faculty and staff. The report also showed a 55% increase in incoming students’ self-efficacy in locating campus resources.

“Almost all (93-94%) students reported an improvement in their ability to find campus resources and plan which courses to take,” the report reads. “Additionally, many student subgroups who began with stronger concerns about not belonging to UCSC” felt a similar “strong sense of belonging” by the end of College 1A.

The survey shows that the change “helps students not only in the learning outcomes of the courses (learning strategies for academic success, skill development using campus tools for enrollment and pathway to graduation, etc.), but also in developing a sense of belonging to their college and UCSC in general!”

College 1A “Introduction to University Life and Learning,” a mandatory online orientation course with credit for all incoming UCSC freshman years, launched Summer 2021. Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Richard Hughey said the goal is to align students with campus and university life, while encouraging community building and effective thinking habits for academic success.

College 1A offers these strategies, but is designed to introduce students to the core elements of undergraduate education and introduce them to campus resources related to academic planning, health and well-being.

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The initiative, led by Orientation Director Rosa Plaza, moved the summer orientation to an online format, which by disseminating the material throughout the summer has proven effective in enhancing knowledge delivery and retention. Improving effectiveness while reducing workload; and orientation in the digital age.

The move to an online format also supported more equitable access, as some families no longer had to choose between the high cost and lost wages of a multi-day trip to Santa Cruz or a 4am to 11pm day trip north. Although not planned, the 2019 switch to the online summer orientation has positioned our campus well to meet the challenges of the pandemic.

Whilst serving as Kresge College Provost, Ben Leeds Carson helped direct Draft 1A as an academic course and saw to the submission of the draft by all 10 colleges for Senate approval. He also oversaw the first iteration of the course in Summer 2021.

Carson coordinated 15 faculty teaching 14 courses, including a version of the transfer student course that Carson helped design in collaboration with faculty affiliated with Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students (STARS). “The way we’ve focused on issues of equity and accessibility for a broad spectrum of students with barriers to entry,” Carson says, is important because “it’s a record of what we must be responsible for going forward.” That legacy, he says, “is part of what makes future educators responsible for upholding that vision and those goals.”

At Kresge 1A, incoming students are directed to resources that support “health and well-being, time management, strategies for academic success, nurturing equitable communities, prevention of sexual harassment and violence, campus behavior guidelines, and awareness of the risks associated with alcohol.” – and other drug use, reflection on UC Santa Cruz community principles, and an introduction to the Kresge College tradition of living and learning,” the curriculum explains.

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Juliana Leslie, an instructor who has been teaching 1T to transfer students for the past two years, hopes to continue working on the curriculum to make it “even more relevant to the transfer student experience.” She adds that it gives freshmen “a preview of the academic literacy curriculum and allows them to reflect on their study habits and goals,” an optimal way to start the fall quarter. “Although the faculty teaching the courses are still revising and refining the curriculum, trying to make it as useful and valuable as possible for incoming students,” adds Leslie, “I believe the course offers students the opportunity to connect with a faculty member, learn about campus resources, practice navigating Canvas and other campus websites, and start building a community.”

Council of Provosts Chairman Sean Keilen also looks forward to the continued development of College 1A. Course revisions by the Council of Provosts and campus orientation “will allow us to make further strides in empowering new students to transform this large, public university into a small neighborhood where they can meet, learn, how things work, and find the resources they need to achieve their goals,” he says. “Huge numbers of students reported that graduating from College 1A gave them a sense of self-efficacy and belonging.”

Zac Nakamura, a third-year games and playable media major associated with Kresge, witnessed this firsthand as the peer navigator for Kresge 1A. “Not only did the course allow students to adapt to college-level discourse and discussion,” he says, “it also allowed students to learn from the perspective of their new classmates.” Nakamura facilitated open discussions with the students students and his colleagues, noting that “the pre-college students’ nerves and anxieties were allayed,” citing that “the course allowed them to come together in a place where they could be vulnerable with each other — all from nervousness.” to college-level reading to feeling unprepared in general. These discussions gave the incoming students confidence that they are not alone and that they can be successful.”

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Nakamura’s hopes for the future of College 1A are “that the course can share with students the perspectives of other students, professors, and individuals who can share their experiences of being successful in college,” he says. For incoming students, hearing these different perspectives on how others have coped with the “quest for academic success” will become “the most useful tool they can have as they begin this new chapter of their lives.”

Hughey also reflected on the past and envisioned the direction of the course for 2023.

“This work has already begun,” he said. “It will be fascinating to see how this course and our students grow and develop based on this survey report and future assessments.”