STARKVILLE, Miss. -- New people, living arrangements and schedules can make adjusting to college life challenging for incoming freshmen.
Fortunately, Mississippi State University has provided a program to enhance students' experiences since 1987.
The First Year Experience program provides fun classes for freshman or transfer students during their first semester at MSU. Each student may take only one, and each seminar counts one credit toward graduation.
Also available are first-year learning communities, where small groups of students take several classes together that meet university general education requirements.
Many courses are open to all freshmen, although some learning communities require registration permission, while others are for those living in the same residence hall. Still other communities are for students in a specific major, such as engineering, communication or psychology.
Research by acclaimed higher education researcher Alexander Astin has shown the most influential factor in college is a student's peers, with faculty being the second most influential. Research also shows that students learn more based upon how involved they are in both the academic and social aspects of the college experience.
Thomas Carskadon, a psychology professor whose research interests include the First Year Experience, said it comes down to getting students connected.
"It's about getting students connected when they get here, not just with their peers but with their professors as well," Carskadon said. "And the more ways you can get students to connect, the better."
Because of this goal, classes are kept small and teachers are specially selected. Seminars cover a variety of topics, including healthy relationships, cooking, fashion and SEC football, to name a few.
Some course favorites return each year, but different classes also are added to the line-up. Cooking Basics: Iron Chef Bully is one of the most popular classes among students, who learn that healthy eating doesn't have to be expensive or difficult.
"I always looked forward to the class. It was fun, and I met a lot of people while cooking and learning," said Andrea Seitz, a sophomore animal and dairy science major who took the course last fall.
The course uses demonstration, lecture and experiential learning to teach basic cooking fundamentals and techniques, an approach professor Sylvia Byrd said helps students feel tied into the class.
"This is a course that is truly hands-on; it uses all of the senses. Students can apply the skills they've learned for the rest of their lives," said Byrd.
For more information about the First Year Experience program, visit www.ctl.msstate.edu/fye.