On April 7, College of Natural Sciences Associate Dean Sacha Kopp unveiled a new initiative meant to promote diversity, improve pedagogy and ensure overall success for incoming freshmen.
After months of gathering student input, Kopp understood there was a resounding issue with how students were acclimating to the college. At a town hall meeting, students gave similar testimonials of isolation and frustration their freshman year that persist years thereafter. Many of the students also shared ways they overcame their feelings of desperation. Kopp aggregated these different solutions into an all-access program called CNS101.
CNS101 is a non-credit course that will divide the incoming Fall 2014 freshman class into 100 cohorts of 25 students for a year. It is intended to help CNS students form a sense of community, build relationships with faculty and achieve academic success in the college. As a transfer student, I’ve realized that these essentials were missing from my personal experience during my first year on the 40 Acres. I could only wish this was implemented sooner.
According to Kopp, “These small learning communities are observed to increase rates of graduation by 40-70 percent relative to other students in the college even when controlling for all other factors. … In some sense, this is not a new initiative. This is a scale-up of an existing collection of ideas and adding some features which we heard from students as important.”
Natural Sciences Council President Juan Herrejon highlighted some of the problems addressed in CNS101 a year-and-a-half ago during a meeting with the Minority Student Advisory Council. A lack of community within the college, low graduation rates and underrepresentation of minority students alarmed the council. That there should be a system in place to smooth, and standardize, the transition to the University no matter the student’s background was the impetus for CNS101.
Unfortunately, because CNS101 will be a non-credit course — like First-Year Interest Groups — retention rates may continue to present a problem. Herrejon believes a mechanism must be in place to assure accountability of it’s members. One way he believes CNS101 could better incentivize students is by making it a course that students may receive credit in. “Putting in a system that works on modules would help,” Herrejon said. “For example, if students have an assignment to network with ‘x’ number of faculty, which will enrich their university experience while earning a grade in the class, they are earning double the reward.”
It is not a perfect system and hasn’t even been proven to work yet. But, like in science, a constant effort to push the boundaries is what CNS101 will attempt to accomplish.
The effort for Kopp, and all those supporting him, is far from over, although this is a step in the right direction. A bright future undoubtedly awaits the College of Natural Sciences.
Dominguez is a biology sophomore from San Antonio.