The title of Foote's 2009 University of South Carolina dissertation was "A Multi-Campus Study of the Perceived Effects of First-Year Seminars on the Experience of Students in Their First Semester of College." Previously she directed the Academic Success Center and First-Year Experience at the University of South Carolina (Aiken) and now edits the Journal of College Orientation and Transition.
This interview, conducted by Jody Brannon, has been edited for length and clarity.
The idea of the new graduate program is rooted in our culture. My department is unique because we have tenured and tenure-track faculty dedicated to teaching first-year seminars, one of the few — two that we are aware of in the country. [The four seminar choices required of students with fewer than 30 credit hours emphasize "life skills, strategies for academic success, campus and community connections, and foundations for global learning."]
Stephanie Foote is an associate professor in education at Kennesaw State University and director of its forthcoming master of science program in First-Year and Transition Studies. (Courtesy photo)Our former president, Betty Siegel, [who stepped down in 2006] was the catalyst for the development of my department in 2007, and in many ways, the graduate program acknowledges her vision for student success and especially for first-year students.
Although the transition to the first college year has long been a concern in higher education, the growing body of empirical evidence demonstrates that the first year really matters. And one key to making a difference at this critical point is to train faculty and staff in more meaningful ways.
As we were developing the curriculum for the new graduate program, we drew on research, best practices, as well as the interdisciplinary faculty in our department. Additionally, we looked to our institutional history and what was happening on a state and local level and thought about how that might influence efforts aimed at helping first-year students in the future.
Historically, we are an institution that has served all students — traditional and nontraditional. Increasingly, we are working to meet the needs of a diverse student body — a mix of first-generation, continuing adults, and at-risk or educationally vulnerable students. In Georgia, like many other states, we have fewer traditional students in the pipeline. We have programs to support these students, as well as transfer students, students of color, veterans, and students who might be considered "in the middle" — those not being served because they aren't the highest achieving students or those most at risk.
Over the last several years, I've had an opportunity to look closely at these other populations of college students in transition [the culmination is her book College Students in Transition: An Annotated Bibliography], and I've come to the conclusion that as the paths to and through higher education become more diverse, it will be important to broaden our perspectives and approaches to working with these students. It's simply not enough to give students access to higher education. As an institution we feel a great deal of responsibility, not to just retain students but to act seriously in the area of success.