Extended orientation program to be required of all freshmen

Connections will be a mandatory program for incoming freshmen next year in an effort to improve freshman retention rates, said an assistant dean of Student Development Services.

According to the 2007 TCU Fact Book, the university lost more than 15 percent of freshman students. Carrie Zimmerman, assistant dean of Student Development Services, said this is a sign that there are programs that can be improved.

Connections, an extended orientation, will allow students to create a strong foundation, she said. The most important part of a student’s foundation is a small group of friends, which is a core aspect of Connections, Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said she hopes this change will help meet Chancellor Victor Boschini’s goal to raise the retention from 83 percent to 88 percent.

Brooke Shuman, associate director of Student Development Services, said the admissions office is informing incoming freshmen of the new requirement.

“The three steps to orientation, academic orientation, Frog Camp and Connections provide safety nets for students and opportunities to get connected,” Shuman said.

Jenighi Powell, executive student Connections director, said the staff has grown to accommodate the changes in the program. The staff has grown from two directors and 40 mentors to seven directors and 144 mentors since last year, she said.

Although mentors have been paid in the past, they will not be paid starting in the fall. This did not stop students from participating in the program, Shuman said.

Shuman said it will be more difficult to manage and organize training for mentors, but the numbers will make the program stronger.

Class sizes will also grow from about 15 students to about 22, but the larger size will enhance the dynamic of the program, Powell said.

“The more energy in the classroom that the mentors can feed off of, the more fun the experience will be,” she said.

About 1,700 freshmen will be divided into 72 classes that will meet Thursdays in the late afternoon, Shuman said. Student Development Services worked with the admissions office, University Ministries and athletics to accommodate the majority of students’ schedules, she said.

Connections will remain a noncredit class, but in order to hold freshmen accountable, students who fail to fulfill requirements will not be able to register for future classes, Shuman said. The temptation to skip will also not be as high because “there will be a mass exodus of freshmen attending the classes at the same time,” she said.

Lindsay Ray, a Connections director, said the program’s more uniform structure will have a positive impact on freshman enthusiasm.

Before freshmen had classes on different days and times, but now they will all share this activity together, Ray said.

The budget for the program will be submitted in the summer and the details are still being discussed, Shuman said.

Faculty and staff members will remain part of Connections. Ray said the 72 members that will be chosen will show the freshmen that faculty and staff are available for them.

“It makes them realize that professors are people too and they love to connect with students,” Ray said.

The program will be extended from eight to 10 weeks, pushing the program past Fall Break.

Connections curriculum includes topics such as dealing with roommates, locating places on campus, making new friends and diversity. The new curriculum will be Web-based, using E-frogs, a site described as a mix between Facebook and E-college, Powell said.

In addition to being more fun, students and mentors will be able to connect better, Ray said.