Now in its 5th year, the Campbell University Freshman Seminar helps first-year students learn about Campbell, the community, and themselves.
When Jewell Yarborough was a freshman at Campbell University, she and her new classmates had a lot of questions. Among them: Where’s the business office? How do I register my car? How do I change my major?
As a member of the women’s basketball team, she had teammates and coaches who provided some answers. But she also turned to a new course she was taking: the Campbell University Freshman Seminar, or CUFS 100.
Now in its fifth year, CUFS provides first-year Campbell students with a supportive classroom environment and helps them develop the skills they need to be successful in college. The one-credit course groups first-year students into sections that meet once a week, typically during their first semester.
Each section is taught by both a faculty or staff member and an upperclassman, called a peer mentor.
“CUFS taught me so much about how to be a student and a mentor,” Yarborough says. “It set me up for success at Campbell and beyond. I wanted to help do the same for others.”
So when the opportunity came her junior year to be a CUFS peer mentor, she said yes. Now a senior in biology/pre-veterinary medicine, Yarborough just completed another stint as a peer mentor this past fall.
What Yarborough learned through CUFS is exactly the purpose of the course and why it was started five years ago, says Dr. Jennifer Latino, assistant vice president for student success “CUFS provides the resources and groundwork students need to be successful.”
One indicator it’s working? The number of first-year students who often ask how they can be peer mentors, says CUFS instructor Betsy Dunn-Williams, assistant director of academic services with Campbell Athletics. “That is the essence of CUFS in my mind — to recognize the value of the [CUFS] experience and to want to share it with future students.”
In honor of CUFS’ fifth anniversary, here are five things to know about the seminar.
1) The CUFS curriculum was designed to answer the question: What do Campbell students need to be successful?
A 19-person committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff formed in 2009 to develop a quality enhancement plan (QEP) to improve student learning and success.
The committee held focus groups with students, conducted surveys and literature reviews, and looked at best practices around the nation — and closer to home. The Lundy-Fetterman School of Business introduced in 2006 a New Student Forum (BADM 100) for undergraduates in its programs and saw results, including higher retention rates.
Out of their work grew CUFS, launched as a pilot program with about 200 first-year students spread across 10 sections in the fall of 2011. This past fall there were 29 sections, enrolling over 550 students. Classes averaged 19 students per section. This small section size is one of the keys to success for first-year seminars, Latino says.
In addition, CUFS has four learning outcomes shaped by the QEP committee’s findings: information literacy, writing, motivation, and campus engagement. (See sidebar “CUFS 100 Learning Outcomes” for details.)
“Campbell has a great support system [like CUFS] to help students acclimate to college life and provides them with unlimited resources for student success . . .,” says Matt Fowler, a former CUFS peer mentor and a first-year student in Campbell’s Doctor of Pharmacy program.
2) Though CUFS sections share common learning outcomes, instructors personalize the delivery of content for their sections.
For example, Dunn-Williams connects service opportunities to a social issue each semester. One year her seminar focused on hunger and organized a CUFS-wide food drive. Another year she emphasized social entrepreneurship and her students volunteered with Room for Grace, a nonprofit founded by Jessica Moulton, an assistant coach with the Camels lacrosse team, that offers short-term housing for families in need.
“I believe one of the best ways to teach self-discovery concepts such as those included in the CUFS curriculum is to reach beyond oneself in service to others,” Dunn-Williams says. “Incorporating service has allowed the class to grow as a group and as individuals. It has opened students’ eyes to the needs of the community around Campbell and in some cases has helped students discover a passion and opportunities either for continued community involvement or even for a potential career path related to that passion.”
3) CUFS builds community.
Brooke Taxakis, a reference and instruction librarian who has been a CUFS instructor since 2012, has her CUFS students complete an assessment to help them identify if they are visual, aural, read/write, or kinesthetic learners. The students get to see how they take different approaches to learning. The exercise is also a community-building activity, she says.“CUFS is about building relationships and making connections.”
Assistant Professor of Economics Mark Steckbeck tells his CUFS students to have fun. “Seriously, fun,” he says. “I implore students to approach their time in college as an opportunity — not just the academic side of things, but also to embrace the social opportunities they have.”
A sense of belonging is one of the key factors of retention, Latino adds. “If they can feel like they are cared for and have a place where they fit on campus, then they are going to be much happier.”
4) CUFS is a shared teaching experience between faculty/staff members and peer mentors.
Along with CUFS instructors, peer mentors are crucial in fostering a sense of belonging. They take first-year students to their first Fighting Camels games. They show them around the tutoring center. They make themselves available.
Yarborough gave her phone number to the students in her section. She arrived early to class and stayed after to talk to them. She met them for coffee. “I just try to be the peer mentor that I would want,” she says.
This partnered teaching experience makes for a better course, Taxakis says. She and her peer mentor plan, build the syllabus, and deliver the course together.
“The peer mentors have insight into things I don’t necessarily have. They are more at the student level and they have been a [first-year student] more recently than me,” she says. “This provides an opportunity to form a deeper connection.”
5) CUFS benefits instructors, too.
Though CUFS was developed for first-year students, it also impacts the peer mentors and faculty/staff members who teach the course.
As a CUFS peer mentor, Yarborough has learned about relationship-building and mentoring, she says. She also has developed public speaking skills. “I’ve gotten comfortable in front of a crowd,” she says. “That’s definitely something that helped me in college and will continue to help me after.”
Being a CUFS peer mentor equipped Fowler with leadership, presentation, and time management skills, he said. All this prepared him for Campbell’s Doctor of Pharmacy program. “I was able to prioritize my time a lot more efficiently in graduate school due to my past experience and involvement” with CUFS, he says.
Faculty and staff benefit as well. CUFS instructors come from across campus, including the library, athletics, the registrar’s office, the provost’s office, student life, and every undergraduate college. The exchange of ideas that occurs in monthly faculty development meetings is unique, Latino says.
“It’s not often that a psychology professor sits next to the chair of the math department who sits next to a communication studies professor who sits next a biology professor — all talking about teaching strategies,” she says.
The faculty and staff learn from each other, adds Taxakis. They also learn from students.
“I better understand today’s students and that helps me with my work as a librarian,” Taxakis says. “I’ve also enjoyed the connections we have made. The students I first taught in a CUFS section are now seniors. Some of them are [Student Government Association] leaders and some are even peer mentors themselves. They are giving back and trying to help younger students get to where they are.”
More on the First-Year Experience Office
The First-Year Experience at Campbell is a comprehensive effort to help students with the transition to college.
Resources and programs such as workshops, newsletters and social media announcements help keep students informed about campus happenings and opportunities. Additionally, academic support efforts such as academic coaching offer one-on-one support for students who need assistance developing specific student success behaviors.
Beyond impacting first-year students, the FYE office provides leadership opportunities for upper-division students including CUFS peer mentor, orientation leader, and academic coach.
CUFS 100 Learning Outcomes
CUFS has four learning outcomes to help prepare students for success at Campbell and beyond. Dr. Jennifer Latino, assistant vice president for student success, explained these outcomes and why they are important to student success.
1) Information literacy. In a world of overwhelming access to information, it is critical that students know how to locate and evaluate information sources. To help develop these skills, each CUFS section tours the library, introduces them to librarians, provides instruction on skills such as locating and evaluating sources, and requires them to complete a research project. “Everything students do [in CUFS] is tied to specific skills they will need in their other courses during their time here,” Latino says. “We want to help students gain these critical skills early.”
2) Writing. The ability to communicate effectively through writing is a skill necessary for success in college, and beyond. When students begin college, they are often not prepared for the number and types of writing assignments expected of them by college professors. CUFS 100 provides the opportunity for students to participate in a variety of writing exercises, including writing professional emails, reflection papers, and formal essays. Through the practice of writing, and meaningful faculty feedback, CUFS students enhance their writing skills, thus impacting all of their college courses.
3) Motivation. CUFS students also identify what motivates them to succeed in college. If students can identify and understand what motivates them, Latino says, that can carry them through college when things aren’t going well, such as after they receive a failing grade or end a relationship. “Students who are motivated for success are going to do better than students are who are not motivated, regardless of their GPA and SAT scores,” Latino says. “The passion and enthusiasm for school matters as much if not more than the ability to do college-level work.”
4) Campus Engagement. CUFS instructors present students with a myriad of ways to get involved at Campbell, such as joining a club or playing intramurals, running for an SGA office, exploring internship opportunities, and completing the #CampbellTraditions. “When students think back to the first year, they generally think and talk about an experience, like the Medallion Ceremony, a bible study they were included in, a connection they made through intramurals,” Latino says. “We want to help students recognize that those who do more than just go to class and study are going to have a greater experience.”
All photos are of a CUFS 100 section in fall 2015. Photos by Bill Parish.