As the university places a greater emphasis on preparing freshmen for the rigors of college life, several college faculty members have risen to the challenge by developing a first year experience program to help students get acquainted with the demands of college classes. Professor Donald Orth in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation has spearheaded this effort and is leading the program, titled “Invent the Sustainable Future,” into its second year.

Established in 2011 with a grant from the university’s Office of First Year Experiences, the program is aimed at helping students in the college adopt sustainable learning strategies. Although it is not mandatory, the program is recommended for all incoming freshmen and can be taken for course credit. “The program helps students develop their sense of identity, relate to the college as their home, and encourage their involvement in undergraduate research, internships, study abroad, and other relevant programs,” Orth said.

Associate Professor Eric Wiseman and doctoral student Kimberly Cowgill of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation and Dean Stauffer, associate dean of academic programs, serve as instructors along with Orth. Professor Joseph Loferski of the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials and Associate Professor Lynn Resler of the Department of Geography have come on board for the program’s second year.

After its inaugural year, the instructors agreed that the program had its share of positives and negatives. “We had a pretty clear vision of what we wanted to accomplish, but it was somewhat blurry and perhaps imperfect,” Wiseman said. “We were introducing a lot of new paradigms to these students and placing new expectations on them. We really pushed them out of their comfort zones.”

Despite any struggles they may have experienced initially, the program leaders are keeping things on track. “Thank goodness for the great team of professors involved in the course,” Cowgill said. “I’m learning from the best group I could. They care so much about the students and developing a valuable course for everyone involved.”

Student response to the program has also been overwhelmingly positive. “What I enjoyed most were the personal reflection assignments,” remarked forestry major John Peake. “When I first came to college I found that I was a lot busier than in high school and had lost valuable time to reflect, but these assignments forced me to set aside time for reflection and planning out the future.”

The instructors are committed to building on the program’s success. “We want to try to get the students more engaged with practitioners of natural resources,” Wiseman said. “It’s important for them to get early exposure to working with professionals so they can begin to shape their goals and their expectations for a career in natural resources.”