The college’s first-year experience program — Invent the Sustainable Future — received one of three 2013 University Exemplary Program Awards. This year’s awards recognized groups implementing programs for first-year students that incorporate problem solving, inquiry, and integration of learning skills. The college’s program will receive a portion of the $40,000 award.

Invent the Sustainable Future helps incoming students develop their sense of identity and a relationship with the college. The three-credit course emphasizes active learning strategies and allows students to investigate timely and local issues. It incorporates social media, ePortfolios, and career exploration tools to encourage self-reflection and promotes high-impact educational practices such as undergraduate research, internships, summer jobs, service learning, and education abroad.

We teach them wise strategies and how to make good choices for not only success in college, but also in life.

Offered since fall 2011, the course gives students exposure to many college faculty through experiences such as panel discussions and student video interviews. In addition, more than 30 peer mentors have served as instructional assistants, offering new students the opportunity to interact with and get advice from fellow students.

Professor Don Orth, who spearheads the program, emphasizes that adjusting to the demands of college is critical to the success of all entering students. “We teach them wise strategies and how to make good choices for not only success in college, but also in life,” he explained. “Accepting responsibility is the core of everything.”

Professor Dean Stauffer, Associate Professor Eric Wiseman, and teaching assistant Kimberly Cowgill have served as instructors along with Orth since the course was initiated. “We strive to push students out of their comfort zones with learning and problem solving,” Wiseman said. “For many freshmen, it can be tough to transition from the high school learning model to the college learning model. We’re trying to engage them in this transition and help them discover strategies to be successful.”

Many first-year students find the experience to be transformational. “[The course] showed me what student resources are available to me and what different strategies I could use to become a lifelong learner and to do well in the new college classroom environment,” one student wrote. “My approach to learning is no longer doing the bare minimum, memorizing, receiving the grade, and then forgetting all the material. It is now a process of reading, re-reading, absorbing, understanding, and talking it through with my professors and peers, not worrying too much about the grade but being more concerned with whether or not I feel comfortable with and know the material being taught. . . . [It] made me think a lot about where I want to be, who I am, and what my real passions are. . . . My sense of self has greatly improved. I think I know a lot more about who I am and what I want out of school and life in general than I did a few months ago.”