When 80 faculty members gathered in the Sky Room early this semester for a summit on First Year Composition Program retention, the challenge was clear.
What innovative ways could the group conceive to assure that First Year Composition students receive the coursework and connections with faculty and peers that will bring them success as freshman and help them to return as sophomores who are well prepared academically and comfortable socially.
One summit recommendation has already been implemented this semester as a pilot program.
Highlighted as a “Blue Ribbon Initiative for Student Retention” in President Doug Baker’s “next steps,” First-Year Composition has taken bold steps to incorporate peer advocates into the program’s courses. Implemented almost immediately, the Peer Advocate Program pairs 18 undergraduate peer advocates with English 104 (Rhetoric and Composition II) course sections and teaching assistants.
With the support of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning (OSEEL) and close collaboration between peer advocates and teaching assistants, peer advocates support the research writing course by joining their paired 104 classes at least once a week, holding office hours in the library, clarifying assignments and helping with visual rhetoric important in the creation of poster boards for the University Showcase of Student Writing.
The FYComp peer advocates have also ventured beyond the classroom to support their students. A few weeks ago, the peer advocates staffed a 15-hour, three-day, mid-semester study space – complete with pizza – in a lounge at the Chick Evans Field House. In addition to offering academic support, peer advocates fill the equally important role of peer resource, mentor and confidant.
As Schmidt’s students readied their group research proposals, Rhoads held 30-minute conferences with each research group. As the 30 minutes grew to an hour and more, students learned that Rhoads is an excellent resource as she provided information on campus faculty, staff and offices; career plans and internships; and such co-curricular areas as campus life, study abroad opportunities, clubs, interest groups and residence hall life, among many others.
“I have seen, firsthand, all of the success that comes from the new PA program,” Rhoads said. “If the ‘pilot run’ has been this successful, I see great things for the program’s future.”
Grateful for Rhoads’ presence as a committed and talented resource for his 104 students, Schmidt said that her help researching topics and rehearsing group proposals elevated his students’ performance considerably. “I believe that, without Bailey, the research proposals would not have turned out as focused and detailed,” Schmidt said.
OSEEL is assisting the English Department in planning for an expanded peer advocacy program, serving 30 sections of First Year Composition during the fall 2014 semester.
For more information on the First Year Composition Program, call (815) 753-1607 or email [email protected].