Freshmen contemplate future as exams approach

Sara Scanes

First 15 weeks considered critical to success of first-year students

Today marks the last day of classes for students, but before winter break, first-year students are looking back at their first semester – a time university officials say is crucial for student success – and anticipating their futures.

“If students don’t have a good first semester, they won’t be excited about the second semester,” said Eboni Pringle, associate director of the student success program. “The first semester lays the groundwork for the next four years.”

Gregory Jarvie, associate vice president and dean of students, agreed with Pringle, saying the first semester is “critical” to a student’s success and happiness.

“The first seven weeks or so are very important to the well-being of the student,” Jarvie said.

Laura Hawk, freshman middle childhood education major, agreed the first semester is vital for new students.

She said the first semester is a transitioning stage, as well as a time to learn about the campus, make new friends and learn about yourself.

Adam Gockowski, freshman electronic media productions major, said his first semester was overwhelming because college is “harder than high school” and classes involve more work.

“My classes made a man out of me,” he said.

Despite his nerves, Gockowski said he is ready for next semester.

Some students aren’t as excited about the coming Spring semester, and some freshmen are preparing to transfer even before next semester starts.

“There’s a lot of reasons why students don’t come back,” Wayne Schneider, director of research, planning and institutional effectiveness, said. “There’s a story for every student.”

Schneider said about 96 percent of freshmen stay through Fall semester and about 87 percent of freshmen return in the spring.

The retention rate of students over the Fall and Spring semesters has been “ticking up slightly” for the last few years, falling between 72 and 73 percent, Schneider said.

“It seems like we’re doing a better job at keeping students,” he said.

But for Anna Marianetti, freshman pan-African studies major, the distance from home proved to be too great. She is transferring to a school closer to her home in Rochester, N.Y., which is five hours away from Kent.

“I feel like Kent is too far from my home, and all of my friends went to school around Rochester,” she said.

Freshman exploratory major Rachel Watkins said she is also transferring before the start of next semester. Watkins is transferring to Muskingum College, a school of about 1,700 undergraduate students, closer to her home in Granville.

It isn’t just the distance that is driving some students away. Class size is also a factor. Marianetti said Kent is too big for her.

Watkins, who is hearing impaired, agreed with Marianetti. She said smaller classes will benefit her more since she has trouble hearing in large lecture classes.

Marianetti also said that she doesn’t feel connected with university faculty.

“I don’t even know my adviser’s name,” she said.

Jarvie understands that it’s important for students to “feel connected to the institution.”

“The university does everything we can to help students adjust,” Jarvie said.

The university aims to achieve that goal through a number of freshman-oriented programs, including the FlashPoint course and the Freshman Advisory Council, Pringle said.

Gockowski was confused about both programs. He said he had “no idea” what either program entailed.

Taylor Kane, freshman secondary education major, hadn’t heard about the Freshman Advisory Council either.

But Kane said he loved his FlashPoint class, a course Pringle said should act as a weekly support system.

“It really helped me feel more comfortable at Kent and get to know some really cool people,” he said. “The professor was also really cool. He was easy to talk to and made the classes fun, even at 10 in the morning.”

Even though classes are almost done, Schneider said he doesn’t have a count of returning freshmen for the spring.

Despite not knowing exact numbers, Pringle is optimistic about their return.

“For the most part, I’m gathering students have had a really good semester,” she said. “They feel they’ve made the right choice.”

Contact news correspondent Sara Scanes at [email protected].