Patricia Micks

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Trying to navigate the course schedule during orientation can be an overwhelming experience for freshmen, but the Senate of College Councils is helping students choose with grouped courses.

Incoming students will be able to register for one of 10 course curriculum streams — which are grouped courses with a connecting theme — starting this summer. The streams consist of two or three classes including an undergraduate studies course and can accommodate at least 180 students in the pilot semester in the fall.

Michael Morton, Senate of College Council president, said the Senate proposed the initiative and chose the course streams. Morton said the streams, which were supported by the School of Undergraduate Studies, will help guide new students toward academic areas of interest, give insight through various courses and help them decide whether to pursue that subject.

“It’s a way to get students off on the right track academically at the University and acquainted with college-level thinking,” Morton said. “Through different subjects, they can see how one area ties into another area. They’ll have a more concrete view of why the core curriculum is important.”

Morton said the streams will help students get several core credits in early, while also receiving a deeper educational experience.

Patricia Micks, undergraduate studies program coordinator, said although the streams are geared toward freshmen, similar to First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs), the streams will not operate the same way.

“FIGs emphasize assisting with the transition from high school to college, streams seek to bring cohesion to some core curriculum requirements through the use of themes,” Micks said.

Applied learning and development freshman Lauren Ayala said she didn’t enjoy her experience in a FIG because the classes were unrelated to education and pushed the students to interact outside of class with meetings and various group activities.

“I didn’t enjoy my FIG because I got put in one that didn’t pertain to my major at all and the meetings were pointless,” Ayala said. “I am not always the most social person. I’ve never really had a ton of friends that I shared my academic struggles with and that is how my FIG was run, but I think everyone should take core classes in a cluster to make things easier when registering.”

Morton said unlike FIGs, the curriculum streams would not have a social aspect with a weekly meeting led by a student mentor to help students adapt to college life or require students to be in the same section of the course. Morton said the Senate is hoping to eventually add a discussion section to allow students to discuss how the courses relate, to draw deeper meaning from the information learned in class. 

Freshmen are not required to join a FIG or stream. Micks said any remaining seats will be offered to all other students on campus.

Although the streams are currently geared toward freshmen, Morton said he hopes they can eventually be expanded to all students.

The School of Undergraduate Studies will invite UT freshmen to participate in the first in a series of surveys Wednesday meant to identify freshmen struggling with the transition from high school to college.

The surveys, called MAP-Works, are part of a third-party program to improve retention rates by identifying at-risk students, said Patricia Micks, undergraduate studies first-year experience coordinator. Once the program identifies at-risk students, Micks said it will notify the students’ advisors and support staff. The School of Undergraduate Studies, the department funding the survey, estimates it will pay $88,000 based on the freshman class size of 8,100 — the largest yet at UT. Some survey questions are about academics, but others ask about roommates, activities and family issues, Micks said.

“We want to work with the students early on to be sure they feel like the UT community is another home for them,” Micks said. “It’s meant to be an early intervention to help students before they’re in trouble.”

Micks said 98 percent of UT freshmen return after fall semester and 91 percent after spring. She said this rate was good, but if MAP-Works can improve the retention rate by even 1 percent, many students would be affected at a school this size. She said in its six years of use by other universities, the program has improved retention rates by 1 to 10 percent.

“What MAP-Works tries to do is what we already do, and that’s connect students with resources,” Micks said.

Micks said she has been enlisting resident assistants, Freshman Interest Group mentors, undergraduate studies professors and academic advisors to encourage their cohorts to use the optional surveys as tools.

The school pays for every enrolled freshman regardless of participation.

Freshmen Interest Group mentor Ginu Scaria said she plans to point her students toward the survey.

“It’s a good way to connect with students and see how they are doing,” Scaria said. “If there’s a problem you can’t deal with, you are able to send information to someone who can help them in a better way.”

As a PEER mentor, Scaria will not have access to much personal information but can submit reports to advisors and track her students’ survey completion. Scaria said MAP-Works might be more helpful to students who are not in close contact with their mentor.

Heather O’Leary, a principal analyst for Eduventures, a higher education consulting firm, said universities care about identifying struggling students early because administrators have made an investment and want to ensure student success. O’Leary said personal responsibility is important, but struggling students may not be aware of all of the resources available to them.

She said the program would be a good way to make the most of investments UT has already made in student support and to potentially identify gaps in resources.

“I would actually be really interested to see in three or five years down the line the kind of impact this program has on the students and the retention rate overall,” O’Leary said.

Printed on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 as: Surveys aid freshmen in college transition