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Leveraging Pre-Semester, Co-Curricular Programs to Support Student Success

by Natalie Hershberger (nhershberger@gwu.edu) and Lin Philpott (philpott@gwu.edu)

Connectedness is a key factor in student success and retention. Students who are engaged in the academic and social life of a college campus are more likely to persist to graduation. This engagement includes students developing meaningful relationships with peers, faculty, and staff as well as building strong academic bonds in and outside the classroom.

The beginning of the first year of college is a pivotal time for creating student connections among individuals and with the university. Among many avenues for creating connections, the Center for Student Engagement offers two pre-semester, co-curricular programs for new incoming students: Adventure Bound and LEAD GW. These programs ease participants’ transition to college and helps students build connections with the campus community before classes even begin.

Adventure Bound is an outdoor orientation program that happens the week before fall classes. Students choose from six different trips options including backpacking, multi-sport, and whitewater rafting. On these trips, students participate in various activities in the outdoors such as hiking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and kayaking.

LEAD GW’s pre-semester program is a two and a half day leadership retreat that utilizes the GW campus and surrounding DC area to engage students in developing and applying their leadership ideas and skills. Participants attend presentations and workshops, participate in GW’s SUMMIT Outdoor Challenge Course, and explore their new home together. In 2017, the program expanded to include a fall workshop series for the LEAD GW cohort.

Shared between the program designs is an emphasis on small group experiences led by upper class students known as guides. Throughout the day (LEAD GW) and each evening (AB), participants engage in meaningful conversations with their peers about how to be successful at GW. Both programs strive to support participants by providing community, sharing GW resources, and fostering an environment where students can challenge themselves and mentally prepare for college.

Adventure Bound and LEAD GW participants and guides complete pre- and post- surveys to assess the program’s learning outcomes. As a result of participating in Adventure Bound and LEAD GW, students reported having a strong connection to GW and feeling better prepared to begin college. Below are key findings from 2017 assessments related to creating connections and easing participants’ transition to college.

Outcomes of Adventure Bound

  • 84% of participants feel that they belong at GW (3% increase)
  • 95% of participants feel connected to their fellow incoming first year students (13% increase)
  • 87% of participants feel that they have someone to look up to at GW (89% increase)
  • 39% reduction in the number of students who felt anxious about starting college

When asked “What was something you learned on Adventure Bound that will inform your GW experience? Participants responded:

  • “[From] hearing the guides personal experiences, [it helped prepare me] more for college and I’m more confident in what to expect.”
  • “I learned that every incoming freshman is in the same position as me. I felt comforted by this and built bonds with everyone.”
  • “There’s nothing to be afraid of about college and nothing you can’t handle; face your fears.”

Outcomes of LEAD GW

  • 94% of students feel like they belong at GW (16% increase)
  • 95% of participants feel connected to their fellow incoming first-year students (179% increase)
  • 86% of participants feel that they have someone to look up to at GW (74% increase)
  • 34% reduction in the number of students who felt anxious about starting college

When asked “What was something you learned during LEAD GW that will inform your GW experience? Participants responded:

  • “One thing I learned at LEAD was not to be afraid or anxious for the upcoming school year and that the student body here is full of unique and awesome people.”
  • “I learned that there will be other people like me on campus. I made some friendships here that I strongly believe could last a lifetime.”
  • “I think this program is great because it puts you in a very empowered mindset right as you make on the biggest transitions in your life thus far. I think this empowering feeling will carry over throughout our careers here.”

Adventure Bound and LEAD GW develop mentoring relationships between guides and participants. After completing the program, students have someone to look up to at GW. With someone to mentor them, these students have someone to go to when they become confused at GW or need someone to talk to. Additionally, after the program students feel more comfortable with reaching out about their academics or social needs. If students are more willing to seek out resources and do well academically they are more likely to be successful at GW and persist to graduation.

References

Ward, L. Siegel, M. J., & Davenport, Z. (2012). First generation college students: Understanding and improving experience for recruitment to commencement. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Natalie Hershberger is the Program Coordinator for Leadership, overseeing  LEAD GW, SUMMIT Outdoor Challenge Course, and Leadership Foundations Institute. Lin Philpott was the Program Coordinator for Outdoor Education, overseeing Adventure Bound and TRAiLS.

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