University experience set to undergo major changes

Beginning in the fall of 2008 the College Orientation class will be a thing of the past. A syllabus has been approved and final details are being ironed out for MIDS 100, the University Experience.

More than 50 faculty members from around campus have contributed to the plans for the program. Dr. Cliff Toliver, associate professor of English, is the newly named director of the First Year Experience program.

“This will be overnight the largest course on campus,” Toliver said. “We are planning at this point to have 40 sections of MIDS 100 filled with 800 students in the fall semester of 2008.

“Though it may seem suddenly to have appeared, it’s actually the result of a long process in which many persons across the campus have taken part.”

Commonly referred to as “freshman orientation” the course is getting a make-over beginning with the name.

“Most students are not men, they are women, and many of them are not fresh,” Toliver said. “Many of our students are not the traditional 18-year-olds and so this University Experience course is for first-year students.”

The current catalog does not list orientation as a requirement, but under next fall’s new catalog, the University Experience will become part of the core. The remodeled orientation course will address many of the first-year issues students face but will also introduce them to options for international study and the path to get there.

“The course will continue to teach what we can call transitional issues, orientation issues,” Toliver said. “Students new to higher education need some information, they need to know where things are, what services are available to them, what courses are offered, what majors there are, what one can do in one’s career with those things.”

Student success, University facilities and topics like how to access a Blackboard class are also on the list, but more than just the college basics it will introduce students to Southern’s international mission using information from the themed semester country.

Next fall’s international focus is Germany. Students in the course will have a common reader, a novel or a biography in addition to the textbook that will give them a feel for the culture of the country’s culture. Attendance will be required at some events and for the online course Toliver is working with Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of the institute of international studies, to create video or audio feed for the Web site. Stebbins says participation in the themed semester events is just one tool for students in the course.

“It’s not just one thing, it’s not just a themed semester course,” Stebbins said.

He wants students to be able to take advantages of the opportunities offered by Southern’s international mission.

“We always hear from students that, they are approaching graduation, that they wish they had studied abroad but they didn’t know about all the opportunities,” Stebbins said. “They always come up after the fact saying boy, they wish they had gone on a certain trip but they didn’t know about it, and this way we’re going to introduce students from their very first semester here on campus all the possibilities that the international mission holds.”

Most study abroad opportunities require some background in the language and for many students that can involve planning and study for years before they leave. As more incoming students learn about requirements and opportunities up front Stebbins says it should expand the number of students studying abroad and foreign language study.

The three-hour class will meet the area five requirements for Missouri Southern’s international mission. Currently enrolled students will not be required to take the new class, but have other options to meet their area five requirements.

Toliver hopes to arm students with the knowledge necessary to open up new possibilities.

“The idea is that if students get this information at the beginning of their career they can make better choices and fewer mistakes,” Toliver said.

Course content will be taught by full-time faculty, student mentors will be included in the process, while their exact role is still in the planning process Toliver said their perspective as students is essential to the process.

“The goal of this program is to put the institution’s best resources at the service of the beginning student s who have a real need to understand what university, academic life is about and so we are going to put the best people the institution has in the classrooms with beginning students and we think that the student mentors,” Toliver said.

The office, which will open within the next week, will function as a central resource location for students, providing schedules, calendars, maps and a meeting point for first-year students. Toliver, who will continue to teach is not moving downstairs just yet. The course implementation is still under development and he says faculty and staff who want to be involved can contact him.

He hopes students who go through the course can recognize its value at the end by visualizing what they need to succeed at Missouri Southern.

“It’s great to say ‘I want to go to New York City or Graceland or San Francisco,'” Toliver said. “It’s great to say that, but it’s very helpful to have a roadmap.”