WWU adds more room for students in Freshman Interest Groups
Vice Provost for
WWU is expanding programs that help freshmen make the transition to college life.
Western's successful Freshman Interest Groups will have more sections this year – providing more opportunities for first-year students to explore their academic interests while getting to know their professors.
WWU is offering 14 Freshman Interest Groups, or FIGs, this fall, up from nine last year. Steven VanderStaay, WWU's vice provost for Undergraduate Education, took over the administration of the FIG program and put that money into instruction in order to expand the program. "So far, there has been a (FIG) spot for every student who wants one," he says.
Each FIG has about 25 students who attend the same faculty-led seminar and two large General University Requirement courses. The seminar ties all three courses together and offers students a more intimate academic setting – and a chance to get to know faculty and other students.
Shifting funds into FIGs makes sense, VanderStaay says, because the 12-year-old program has shown that participants get better grades and are more likely to stay in school, as well as graduate on time, than freshmen who didn't enroll in a FIG.
WWU debuted another program this summer to help students make the transition to college: Viking Launch. The two-week session brings new freshmen to campus early for a rigorous, two-credit course that immerses students in topics such as neuroscience, marine biology, creative writing and criminal justice. VanderStaay hopes to get a grant to offer future students financial assistance to attend Viking Launch.
And the years ahead could bring even more ways to help immerse new students into WWU, VanderStaay says. A small group of students are trying out an "outdoor orientation" this year, sponsored by the AS Outdoor Program, with intense discussions about college while camping, hiking and kayaking.
"We know students who are involved are successful," he says. "We're looking for more ways to plug students in."
Help students from home
How can families help their students succeed at WWU? Gentle reminders about the importance of time management, suggests VanderStaay.
"Freshmen struggle with time management," he says. "The lowest grades are usually fall quarter of freshman year."
The good news is the struggles are probably temporary; WWU has one of the highest graduation rates in the state.