13 years ago
Cristen Perkowski

The Freshman Year Experience (FYE) movement is coming to UTD, but instead of a march on campus it will arrive in the form of the revamped Rhetoric 1101 course.

“I’ve been chomping at the bit to get this program,” said Cynthia Jenkins, director of undergraduate advising. “I want to create a more substantial and traditional first-year experience program.”

FYE is a national movement throughout colleges to provide courses that help freshmen transition from high school to college and has been embodied in the Rhetoric 1101 course here at UTD.

Jenkins said she and the Freshman Experience Advisory Team (FEAT) – composed of faculty, staff and students planning the new course – hope to use the foundation from the current course and take it to the next level.

“(FYE) has a tremendous impact on student retention and satisfaction. Students stay involved, are better students and get better grades,” Jenkins said. “All of this is to make it better for the freshmen and really connect with UTD.”

Rhetoric 1101 will now be modeled after The University of South Carolina program – the first college to offer the course 30 years ago. South Carolina is now the national resource center of the FYE movement.

At UTD, Rhetoric 1101 used to meet one day a week for 50 minutes. Now, all sections will meet Tuesday and Thursday for 75 minutes and the course will run for 10 weeks instead of the usual 16 in a semester.

One day during the week, all sections running at the same time will meet in a big lecture, while during the other class time students will meet in smaller groups to discuss current issues, Jenkins said. This allows for more presentations by university groups, but does not eliminate the peer interaction, Jenkins added.

Like any lab, students will continue to receive one hour of credit for the course, but will attend class 30 contact hours – the equivalent of a two-hour course.

“We had no time to dig our teeth into anything, and that’s always been a frustration,” Jenkins said.

Student and instructor apathy towards the class was also a main reason for restructuring the course, Jenkins said.

“We are going to weed out busy work and doing things that will be perceived that way,” Jenkins said. “It will be a more complete course, not choppy or halfway.”

The course will still focus on many of the same subjects, such as money and time management, study skills and peer interaction, but Jenkins said the new instructors and class organization will take the course’s impact to the next level.

Course instructors will no longer be solely academic advisers, but will include staff from student life, as well as incorporating a standard curriculum and grading system.

Also changing will be the required textbook. A small planner around $10 will be required with UTD specific facts that all students will be able to use, not just freshmen.

And the peer advisers from Phase VIII that helped teach the classes will be replaced by trained juniors and seniors, said Eric Welgehausen, a FEAT member and assistant director of undergraduate studies.

“In the past we used peer advisers that lived in Waterview, but they were pulled too many ways,” Welgehausen said.

Instead, Welgehausen said he is working on training teaching assistants for Rhetoric 1101.

“There is a need for more leadership opportunities on campus. We need some type of peer instruction … to set good examples for the freshmen,” Welgehausen said.

Jenkins said she is aware of student suspicion about the course and hopes that the facelift will dispel any speculation.

“We know it has an impact, that’s why we require it,” Jenkins said. “You’ll just have to trust us that we know what’s good for you.”

Undergraduate Studies Dean Michael Coleman agrees.

“Are there a few who don’t need it? Probably so. I am willing to make them models for others,” Coleman said. “It is the university’s responsibility to educate students in the most efficient way possible.”

Coleman also said the benefits of the Rhetoric 1101 course are statistically proven.

Since the rhetoric programs were instituted in 1998, freshman retention has risen from 72 to 84 percent, Coleman said.