A look through a historic lens underscores the fact that Michigan State University, for over 150 years, has been committed to supporting new students as they transition to college.
This point was apparent when in the 1870s four young men lived in one room, two students shared a bed, all students took the same courses, and they did not have to select a major. This point was true in 1883 when students had the opportunity to choose three out of five courses.
As the curriculum developed, faculty shared more advice, talked about out-of-class experiences, and planned social events for new students. Resources were published which included student success tips, such as, “Pity the poor instructor who gets out of bed to come to his eight o’clock class of nodding heads with half shut eyes. If the lecture is particularly boring, read a book, draw pictures, do the crossword puzzles, that is – do anything but sleep or talk” (The M.A.C. Record 1918).
Fast forward 150 years. New students engage in a more comprehensive orientation experience that has evolved into a transition process. The academic orientation our new students attend reflects the dynamically changing environment of the University, inclusive of our domestic and growing international student populations. Increasingly, our focus is on improving student persistence, increasing graduation rates – particularly among traditionally underrepresented populations – and, to the degree possible, reducing students’ time to degree.
The curriculum which drives the academic orientation process, is based primarily on our Undergraduate Learning Goals and the T-Shape framework. This curriculum also recognizes the relationship between non-cognitive factors and academic outcomes. Students meet with academic advisors and discuss exploring and discovering purpose; they engage in “T-Talk” with an MSU faculty member; in small groups led by a current MSU student, the new students think about the importance of appreciating different perspectives; students go on a “Date With State” and begin to discover what it means to be a Spartan; a tour of a Neighborhood Engagement Center and a visit to the Resource Fair introduce students to many of the services and resources they can use as they transition to MSU.
The most common messages students are taking away from their academic orientation are:
- Get involved/connect
- Become "T"-Shaped
- Explore and find your purpose and passion
- Step outside your comfort zone/try new things
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
- Meet with professors and advisors regularly
- "Fail Forward"
- Embrace Difference
Before they leave their academic orientation, the new students share a message with us; they write on a footprint what they will do to leave their Spartan footprint on their campus, the nation, the world.
- One student said she will
“leave [her] Spartan footprint by leaving a seed in the minds of children – a
seed that will grow into passion, understanding and a thirst to always do more
and accomplish more…”
- Another student said she
was “going to create or improve robotic limbs for amputees so they can have a
better quality of life.”
- Another Spartan wants to use his knowledge of Computer Science to “create programs that will help developing countries with issues such as healthcare and crime.”
We recognize the importance of continuing to manage the task of transition during the student’s undergraduate experience. The academic orientation staff, along with other stakeholders such as faculty, academic advisors, career services staff, Neighborhood staff, Office for International Students and Scholars staff, English Language staff, to name a few, will work together to nudge our students to “play with a purpose” so that they “WILL” make a meaningful difference.