Friday, August 16, 2013

Mentoring freshmen and incoming transfer students at #GeorgiaTech #FASET

The Fall semester is starting this Monday at Georgia Tech. That means a whole new batch of undergraduate students is streaming in. To smoothen their transition to our university and increase the chance of their success and retention, Georgia Tech has created FASET. This funnily named acronym (Familiarization and Adaptation to the Surroundings and Environs of Tech) stands for a program that (in tandem with a few other support programs during the year) has increased first-year retention rate above 95%. It was a real privilege to be invited to serve on a faculty panel at FASET this year. Given the large size of our student body and the self-imposed space limitations of our auditoriums, Georgia Tech stages five such programs, each serving approximately 500 students and their parents. Typically, a faculty member participates in only one. Not knowing when to stop, I managed to serve in three of them. Sadly, the forum didn't give me a chance to hear their voices directly, but I did have a chance to see the excitement, enthusiasm and apprehension in their faces as I looked around the auditorium.

What was my advice?

  1. First and foremost, students should recognize the power of the network of their peers. Both as students and alumni, they will have a common bond through their time at Tech. While in college, they can certainly help each other learn faster and more efficiently through study groups. After graduation, they can help each other accelerate their careers through continued collaboration. 
  2. The single most important thing they can do to succeed is to GO TO CLASS. Most college lectures do not include an attendance component. However, student performance tends to correlate well with attendance. 
  3. Students should interact with faculty, tutors, teaching assistants and other instructors as much as they can. We all post office hours, so go to them, don't be shy and ask for help on whatever you don't understand. If you wish to meet your instructor beyond posted office hours, then pay attention to whichever mode she or he suggests you use. Some instructors will be happy to receive texts on the classroom bulletin board system, others will prefer drop-in visits at their office and others will prefer e-mail, but few will prefer all of these. 
  4. As you ponder the choice of your major, remember that this decision is primarily going to affect your time in college and your first job or post-graduate program. After that, through the typical 3-4 career changes that most people undergo, you will likely be working in jobs very different from your major. So DON'T PANIC. You need only figure out what you will enjoy doing for the next 4-5 years. You might as well choose something that you like doing, and that you can do well.
  5. Finally, my parting bits of advice were: "Be prepared, be engaged, stay the course, challenge your intellect, try new things, have fun, ... don't die."
Of course, these are simply a summary of the main points that I made. My actual presentation involved the type of discourse (with an audience in the several hundreds) that I learned from my use of active learning modalities. I had them raise their hands, talk to each other, repeat after me, and even laugh (sometimes). If nothing else, they might remember that they can listen to a group of professors for nearly an hour without falling asleep.

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