First-year seminars have a mixed reputation. On one hand, these introductory courses can be seen as little more than an extended welcome. But, taught properly, first-year seminars like MSU’s UGS 110 can provide crucial support to students and pay dividends well into their collegiate futures. Nate Clason and Jim Lucas, who are co-architects of the UGS 110 first-year seminar, have the data to prove it. Lucas, an assistant dean of Global Education and Curriculum in the Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, co-designed the class with Clason, also an assistant dean of Global Education and Curriculum, who also teaches the class.
UGS 110 is a one-credit first-year seminar designed to support students in the transition to college. UGS 110 instructors participate in an annual workshop series, teach from a standard set of 8 learning outcomes, and typically offer the course in the 10-week format with one class session per week. Content includes topics such as pro-academic behaviors and mind-sets, identity development and cultural understanding, and good decision-making. Part of the assessment plan for UGS 110 includes a case matching study in which participating students are matched to students who had similar demographic and academic characteristics, but who weren't enrolled in the course.
The analysis conducted by Institutional Research found that, in comparison to the matched group, students (n=377) who completed FS19-UGS 110 and participating sections of FS19-BUS 101:
• earned higher term GPAs (95% confidence),
• were placed on academic probation at the end of their first fall at a lower rate (95% confidence),
• persisted to the following spring at a higher rate (90% confidence), and
• were placed on academic probation at the close of first spring at lower rates (95% confidence).
Part of the blueprint for the success of UGS 110 is extensive preparation by instructors.
"Seeing measurable impact on student success is undoubtedly due to the tremendous commitment of UGS 110 and BUS 101 instructors,” says Clason. “Although it is only a one-credit course, instructors spend as much or more time on prep as you would for a three or four-credit course. We are now seeing evidence on a broader scale of how their thoughtfulness and sophisticated approach to teaching translates into success among students."
Ensuring that UGS 110 adds real, measurable value to students’ lives is critical to Lucas and Clason.
“We definitely want our course to be mindful of students’ multi-identities and developmental needs, and we also want to incorporate research-based interventions that enhance personal and academic success, knowledge, attitudes, and skills,” says Lucas.
During a difficult time rife with struggles, providing a holistic way of ushering students into the Spartan community has been even more important than when UGS 110 was conceived. Striking the right balance in the approach to students is the key to APUE’s larger mission of ensuring student success.
“The class is designed to help students identify and build upon their existing strengths, and if needed, provide some tough love when their approach to college life is not successful for them,” says Lucas. “We build capacity without tearing down confidence or enabling,” says Lucas.
Any educator at MSU can go through the workshops Clason conducts. Clason and Lucas say they are always looking for volunteers who want to gain teaching experience, and they are able to work with units to create a class section for their specific population.
For more information about first-year seminars on campus, contact Dr. Nate Clason at 517-884-3678 or email@example.com.