SIP 2.4 First-Year Students

Thirsty for Strong Instructional Practice?

Photo of college classroom with the professor and a student standing at the front of the room. The professor and student are both smiling. There are also about 7 students facing the professor and student with their hands up. The classroom looks like a friendly place to learn.As professors, faculty, and administrators, most of us are familiar with the challenge of engaging first year students in academic work and social life on campus.  However, it is important to take note of the special attention that must be given to first-year students during this critical time of transition.  First- year students are not only developing academically and intellectually, they are also establishing and maintaining relationships, forming a college-going identity, making important decisions about a major/career, balancing work/family/life responsibilities, maintaining health and wellness, while and navigating a complex administrative system that is foreign to them.  These experiences can be especially challenging for students of color and first- generation students who may have few mentors and/or role models to support them during this critical transition time.  What can we do to support and engage first- year students as they take this important steps in pursing toward achieving their academic and career goals?

Take a SIP of This: First-Year Students

Understand that first-year students bring with them experiences, assumptions, and strategies for life that rarely prepare them for academic and social life in college.  Culture, language, traditions, and values also play a key role during this daunting time of personal and academic identity development.  In order to foster student success in the first year and beyond, faculty and administrators can

  • Create an inclusive and safe learning environment,
  • Establish formal and informal mentoring relationships with students,
  • Openly cultivate a sense of belonging and community (especially important on a commuter campus!) , and
  • Allow students to contribute to class discussions or other conversations either orally or in writing, even online—this will allow them to find their voices in a more low-stakes manner (see last week’s SIP on introverts!).

These supports will certainly impact first-year students, but will also improve the quality of the educational experience for all students (including veterans, transfer students, non-traditional students, international students, etc.)  on campus.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind:

  • Get to know your students! Have real, meaningful conversations with them.  Be genuinely curious about who they are and what they are experiencing in your class and on campus.  Be approachable, accessible, and meet students where they are in order to establish and maintain relationships with first year students.  Using technology and social media (with discretion) can be a great tool for connecting and communicating with students.
  • What may seem like basic information to you does not mean it is obvious to a first-year student. Keep in mind that there are a lot of “firsts” for first year students and while a message or information may seem basic and simple common sense, it is often the “first time” a first-year student is hearing and receiving the information within a new academic and social environment.

Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of First-Year Students

There are many resources right on campus to help support you in your role! Check out the First Year Success website for general information on the first-year experience and how to support students’ academic success:  Don’t miss the bibliography on the Faculty Resources page of the First Year Success website:

The Equity in Excellence website offers resources focused on a highly diverse MSU Denver first-year student population:  And here is a fabulous best-practices guide for the first-year instructor:

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