First-year students' success UBC goal

by Susan Stern
Staff writer

UBC is focusing more attention this year on the needs of its more than 4,200 first-year students to help them make the transition from high school to university.

"I believe UBC can offer one of the finest academic and social first-year experiences," says Janet Cox, UBC's recently appointed first-year co-ordinator. "It's my job to find ways to help first-year students feel part of UBC as quickly as possible."

The new full-time position is located in the Office of the Vice-President, Student and Academic Services. Cox will help co-ordinate the design and delivery of programs, activities and services directed specifically at the needs of first-year students.

The goal is to develop a focused, university-wide approach to let students know UBC is concerned about their academic success from year one, says Maria Klawe, former vice-president, Student and Academic Services.

"Last Tuesday's Imagine UBC orientation day was just the beginning," says Klawe. "Janet's here to make sure support for first-year students' transition to university continues throughout the year."

Richard Spencer, registrar and director of Student Services, says the position is a key one.

"The experience that students have in their first year at university is critical to their success," Spencer says.

Cox wants to bring back some of the personal contact that has been lost to new students since the introduction in the 1980s of telephone registration and other automated services.

"Students used to come to UBC to sign up and they would invariably take a look around campus," says Cox. "That doesn't happen anymore."

Cox aims to start easing the transition for first-year students before they arrive on campus. The creation of a special information page on the UBC Web site will allow students to acquaint themselves with UBC before they get here.

"I want the information to focus on issues directed at first-year students so they have a sense of what the UBC community is and how they can get involved," says Cox.

With five years experience as residence life manager at Totem Park Residence, Cox is familiar with student problems once they're on campus. She knows some students have a difficult time adjusting to university life.

"Some students are dealing with so many new things at once," says Cox. "They have a hard time getting accustomed to their new environment, forming new relationships, and developing good study habits because it's so different from their high school experience."

Cox intends to be available for students who need support.

"I am here to see them in person and to help point them in the right direction," she says.

Improving communication between first-year students and professors is another focus. When professors get to know their students, Cox says, the connection can make a big difference in their academic success.

Then there's learning to use the library. A certain degree of computer literacy is required to access UBC's vast library holdings of more than 3.5 million books, serials, videos and CD-ROMS.

"We see a lot of new students who don't have basic computer skills," says Martha Whitehead, head of UBC Library Information Services. "Students need to use a computer to find anything in the libraries right down to texts published hundreds of years ago."

A new introductory training program which Cox helped organize called Computers Don't Byte has been created by the Alma Mater Society, Student Services, the Faculty of Arts and the Walter C. Koerner Library. The course will be taught by UBC students.

The idea is to help students acquire basic computer skills and to use the computer for academic applications including library data bases, on-line courses and class discussions by e-mail.

Cox also has high hopes for the My Undergraduate Group (MUGs) program. The pilot project, introduced with the help of second-year physical therapy student Heather Kerr, is aimed at first-year students who commute to UBC from Vancouver's suburbs -- those students who tend to feel less a part of the campus community.

Participants will meet regularly with a senior student and fellow first-year students to talk about their campus experiences and issues of concern.

Funding for the position is provided by the Office of the Vice-President, Academic and Provost, Student Services and Housing and Conferences.