University 101: Supporting Transition To College

Students in University 101 participate in a class exercise.

Parker Cotton

In the fall of 2011, Yesenia Aguayo, then an 18-year-old freshman, made her way to her first class — University 101 — in a manner than she can only describe as "a wreck," fully aware she had her introductory psychology class later in the day.

"I was completely clueless. I wasn't sure if college was going to work out for me," she said. "I wasn't familiar with Greeley. I was worried. I wasn't sure what to expect."

Aguayo was surprised once she arrived in University 101, however; almost all of her classmates felt the exact same way.

"It was nice to know I wasn't the only one who was just as worried, just as stressed out," she said. "We all had similar questions. We were thinking the same things. Our professor was so open and so willing to help us that it made us feel so much more comfortable."

Aguayou said students in the class bonded over their shared feelings of anxiety, became friends and helped ease the adjustment from high school to college.

Such is the goal of University 101, which was selected by the Colorado Department of Higher Education as a high-quality program moving the needle on student completion. As part of the recognition, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, executive director of CDHE, visited campus Oct. 22.

Angela Vaughan, Ph.D., UNC's director of First Year Curriculum and Instruction, said University 101 has gone through substantial changes over the last half-decade or so to provide students with an informative yet rigorous introduction to the college atmosphere and its demands.

"Overall, the course is to help students successfully transition from high school to college," she said.

She further described how after evaluating the previous program, a one-credit offering called First Year Experience 108, and interviewing faculty and students, it became clear it was not meeting the needs or expectations of the participants or the program.

Now a three-credit class, University 101 has gone through an overhaul, as all instructors now present similar classroom atmospheres with identical course objectives, something that had been lacking in its previous form. The course is now based in the educational psychology discipline and incorporates a research paper and a discussion of future careers, among many other units. The sections are usually capped at 25 students to preserve a small class size for a discussion-based learning environment.

"We're always looking for ways to help move them forward, really looking for ways to continue to challenge them," Vaughan said. "Even though it is there to help students transition, I do think of it just like any other academic course."

Luiz Perez, a first-generation freshman from Fort Collins, is currently taking the course. He appreciates that the level of work expected is on par with that of the rest of his schedule, which includes biology, statistics and an English course.

"It prepares you for your other classes, definitely," Perez said. "Like our research paper will help us for next semester when we're in English 123.

"It's been nice also learning how to address professors, because it's different from high school, and managing classes because they're a lot bigger. We've also talked about a master calendar and prioritizing our time."

Perez said all of the students in his class are pre-nursing majors like he is, so he's been able to quickly become friends with his peers, as Aguayo also did.

Kyle Lucas, a Ph.D. student who instructs two sections of University 101 this semester, said it's sometimes difficult to teach students out of the mindset of high school tactics working in college, as well as teaching a responsible use of their newfound independence, as bells and hall monitors are no longer moving them from class to class.

"A majority of them don't know what to expect at the college level, coming in and being on their own, and parents and teachers aren't there to support them in the same way," Lucas said. "It's a different level of accountability, but you can really see that some of these students are putting into action these things that we're teaching throughout the semester."

Aguayo, also a first-generation student, is originally from Chicago but lived in Longmont prior to attending UNC. Now 21, she said she still applies the skills learned in her University 101 today, primarily note-taking techniques, having confidence speaking in front of groups and daily planning and goal setting.

Aguayo shared a story of a friend their freshmen year who was not in the class and was struggling to take worthwhile notes and keep an orderly schedule.

"Because I took the class," Aguayo recalled, "I was able to tell her, ‘Well, this is what I do. Maybe you should try using a planner and here's the style of notes that I learned.' She actually picked up on it and actually regretted not taking the class."

Aguayo arrived on campus in 2011, shy and unsure of how successful she could be as a college student. She is now in her fourth year teaching Zumba at the Campus Recreation Center and set to graduate in May 2015 with a degree in psychology.

She already has two offers for post-graduate positions at Turning Point, where she is currently interning and getting experience of a counselor working with children, and at A Woman's Place, a Greeley shelter that helps victims of domestic violence. She is also strongly considering a graduate school program for psychology.

She said most of her growth as a student, as well as becoming more outgoing and confident, can be directly attributed to University 101.

"It definitely is a great transition to college. I think for anyone coming in, it can be helpful," Aguayo said. "Most students coming to college are excited, and hear all the stories about college life and what it brings. Then there are students like me who were unsure of how it would work out, but it really helped me, and I definitely recommend it."

- Story by Parker Cotton