Care and Feeding of Transfer Students: a First-Semester Seminar Helps Students Thrive

Wednesday 4:30pm-5:45pm Student Union: Ballroom B
Poster Session Part of Wednesday Session


C. Suzanne Rosser, Texas A & M University
David Sparks, Texas A & M University
Julie Newman, Texas A & M University
Transfer students from community colleges make up a large and increasingly important share of undergraduate geology majors. These students are regarded as upperclass students by themselves and the university, but their development stage is similar to first year students (unfamiliarity with university procedure, larger class sizes, more rigorous demands). Further, these students are more isolated than first years because they are taking courses out of sequence, and not in a cohort. First-semester difficulties can have long-term negative affects, or even cut short students' academic careers.

In Fall 2013, we instituted a mandatory seminar for transfer students in their first semester. The goals are to initiate relationships among students in the cohort and with faculty and staff, develop academic success skills, and learn how to prepare for and pursue a career. Each week's early evening meeting starts with a family-style dinner, during which the academic advisor inquires about their week, encourages sharing of issues or questions, and discusses upcoming events. Then the advisor, a professor, or a representative from campus resources leads a discussion or gives a presentation. Topics include academic honesty, time management, academic coaching, career paths, grad school preparation, research opportunities in the department, and employer expectations. Outside of class, students write a short reflection about that week's discussion, or undertake an activity (e.g., visit the Writing Center, create a study schedule).

Mean retention rate and GPA among transfer students have increased 5-15% since the initiation of the seminar, in addition to a 45% increase in the percentage of transfer students involved in undergraduate research. Two modifications to the original seminar design did not work as well: combining new transfer students with an incoming freshmen seminar, and holding the seminar during mid-day. We believe both of these changes made the seminar feel too much like just another course.