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FYE office plans further development over summer

May 1, 2008

The First-Year Experience (FYE) office will receive state funding for the first time this summer and may develop its academic and residential focus with new staff members and a freshman seminar course this fall, director Sarah Egerstrom said.

In its appeal for funding in the spring of 2006, FYE announced intentions to make UW-River Falls an “institution of excellence.”

It estimated an ongoing annual cost of $325,000. Egerstrom said the program funding was approved last October for $315,000.

“We’re still making decisions on the staffing structure,” Egerstrom said. “We’ll have a faculty coordinator that will work with academic-related initiatives. So that will be an important change.” She said that FYE might bring in another program coordinator as well.

Other possibilities for changes include new student seminars and more organized assistance in the residence halls.

However, none of these plans are set in stone. These new developments will be considered in July, when FYE’s funding is officially put into effect.

FYE was launched by co-directors Egerstrom and Miriam Huffman 18 months ago as a pilot project. Huffman also worked with the Diversity Awareness and Student Senate Committees before leaving the University last year.

Egerstrom currently has four students working as interns, including Amanda Kane, Shelby Rubbelke, Kaitlin Webb, and Jeremy McNamara. The program is also supported by about 90 other employees and volunteers.

FYE’s stated goals are to ease new students’ adjustment to college life through Weeks of Welcome (WOW) and improve UWRF’s retention rate. Sophomore retention rates for 2007-2008 rose to about 75 percent, up five points from the previous year. This was seen as encouraging news for FYE and the University in general.

UWRF also admitted 1,287 new students this year, about three quarters of whom participated in WOW, Egerstrom and McNamara said.

WOW has only been run by FYE for two years, but precedes it by “at least 10 or 15 years, or even longer than that,” Egerstrom said. Previous versions of WOW had been known as Orientation or Road Crew.

WOW events are typically scheduled through most of the fall semester, with an abbreviated one-day program for spring arrivals. The events include Move-In Day, Family Day and a variety of recreational group activities such as parties and homecoming celebrations.

There is also Academic Day, which allows new students to meet their advisors, teachers and other students in their major.

Egerstrom said freshmen often experience difficulty with “anything from academics to personal issues to money management to time management. We have a large population of first-generation college students. So for those students, I think there’s some additional challenges.”

As FYE moves beyond its beginnings as a pilot project, the intent of its work remains the same, as do the rewards.

“It’s just been an amazing experience,” McNamara said. “Just to see how everybody grows and how we can make a difference in our students’ lives through activities here on campus. I strongly encourage any first-year student that might be struggling to contact us, and we can help you out with whatever you need.”