UNO’s Office of First Year Experience Encourages New Students to StartStrong

startstrongStart Strong fest educates freshmen students on the different academic departments and resources available at UNO such as tutoring, honor programs and academic student organizations. Deans, Associate Deans, and other UNO administrators are also present creating a liaison between the student body and academic staff members.

Strong of mind, strong of body, strong of spirit: That is the mantra today at the University of New Orleans, where administrators are ushering in a new initiative to help new students start strong.

In so doing, they hope to help new students increase their likelihood of having a strong student experience and strong finish.

“From our standpoint students often come to college thinking: ‘Oh, this is great, I am going to get involved,’ or ‘I’m going to be successful academically,’” said Mike Hoffshire, a new student success counselor in the Office of First Year Experience at UNO. “For us, it’s about them recognizing that there is more to themselves than just being a good student and that they are going to develop here in ways that they may not have expected,” he said. “And that includes expanding boundaries and expanding personally in ways that help you become a 21st century lifelong learner who can be successful in all arenas of life and be prepared to face some of the challenges that are before us.”

The Office of First Year Experience was introduced to UNO under the administration of President Peter J. Fos with the aim of improving student success and increasing retention rates at the university. Today, the Office of First Year Experience hosts the first annual UNO StartStrong Fest from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. on the University Center’s North Patio. The event is designed to introduce first-year, transfer and adult students to on-campus resources that can help them to start their UNO careers strong in mind, body and spirit, Hoffshire said.

UNO’s StartStrong Fest will in some ways resemble Fresh Fest, an on-campus event that took place two weeks ago on the campus quadrangle and featured tables with booths, boards and sign-up sheets, as well as an army of university representatives encouraging students to get involved in student activities on campus. Both events are part of the Privateer Plunge, a six-week welcome designed to introduce new UNO students to campus resources.

The StartStrong Fest, Hoffshire said, will place particular emphasis on programs and activities that engage students in academic and intellectual pursuits. Representatives from UNO’s five colleges and interdisciplinary studies program will be on hand to answer questions regarding majors and minors, research opportunities, co-curricular student organizations, honor societies and other campus opportunities that will help them to “start strong,” Hoffshire said. Making special appearances are representatives from UNO’s study abroad programs, disability services office, health services, counseling and career services, Learning Resource Center, Diversity Council, Office of International Students, ROTC and recreational sports programs.

The timing is perfect, said Hoffshire. Studies and statistics show that students new to university typically face their first challenges or show first signs of struggle during the third and fourth week of transition to college life.

Like other student success counselors in the Office of First Year Experience, Hoffshire holds a master’s degree in higher education and is familiar with challenges and transitions that typically face university students at various junctures.

The Office of First Year Experience: A Look Ahead

To help achieve stated goals of increasing first-year and transfer student retention at UNO and easing new students’ transition into the UNO community, the Office of First Year Experience has introduced several more initiatives for the 2012-2013 academic year.

First, student success counselors have been assigned to work as liaisons to students in each of UNO’s five colleges and interdisciplinary studies program, based on the number of first-time first-year students in those colleges during the 2011-2012 academic year.

Second, the Office of First Year Experience is establishing a new UNO Student Success Center, a high-traffic area in the Administration building boasting new computers, lounge furniture and an academic environment. During the work day, student success counselors will be on hand to help students to set goals, assist them with time management, answer financial aid questions and address other issues facing new students.

Third, the Office of First Year Experience will administer UNOCares, an early alert system designed to help students get back on track before they get in academic trouble, Hoffshire said. Faculty who reach out to students regarding missed classes and missed assignments can also complete a UNO Cares form on WebSTAR. The alert system will flag the issue for student success counselors, who are trained to sit down with students, uncover underlying issues, set up action plans and work with professors to get back in good graces, Hoffshire said.

Helping Students to Be Successful in University Life - UNIV 1001

The student success counselors also help to teach UNIV 1001, a mandatory course for freshmen designed to help them be successful in university life and academic pursuits. The one-credit catchall class encourages student involvement and service along with time management. It also teaches concrete skills including note-taking and goal-setting skills, said Dale O’Neill, who is a leadership counselor in the University’s Office of Student Involvement and also teaches a section of the course.

“Even though our title says Student Success Counselors, we are not mental health counselors,” Hoffshire said. “We know about the transitional phases new students are facing and can help them along...We’re going to work 10 times harder to get in touch with the student and find out what’s going on,” when they miss a class or fail an assignment, he said.

“We’re really just here to help you not fail the course or not drop out,” said Hoffshire. “We really want people to get the information they need. UNO is a big place and we are here to help new students succeed.”