KSU pioneers field of first-year studies, initiates new graduate degree

By TAYLOR TORRES

A new graduate program by Kennesaw State University aims to educate participants on how to improve the first year experience for first year students. The transition from high school to college is said to be one of the most critical transitions in a student’s educational success.

Kennesaw State University’s Master of Science in First-Year Studies program is to launch in 2015, and is the first degree program of its kind nationwide.

It is common among most universities to require a freshman seminar course.

“Over 80 percent of colleges and universities are known to have a first year seminar course,” said Dr. Stephanie Foote, director of the Master of Science in First-Year Studies program and associate professor in first-year and transition studies.

Dr. Stephanie Foote is the Director of the Master in Science in First-Year Studies program and associate professor in first-year and transition studies. She poses next to a banner in her office. Photo by Taylor Torres.
Dr. Stephanie Foote is the Director of the Master in Science in First-Year Studies program and associate professor in first-year and transition studies. She poses next to a banner in her office. Photo by Taylor Torres.

Freshmen in their first year of college take this course to learn proper studying techniques, note-taking skills and general, healthy habits for succeeding in college. Kennesaw State University’s University College houses the Department of First-Year and Transitions Studies, which will be the department to administer the new graduate program.

The program will require its students to take several different classes such as methods, cognitive development and multiculturalism courses.

“Some of the courses are ones you would find in any sort of graduate program where the student would be required to write a thesis,” said Dr. Kiesha Hoerrner, interim dean of University College.

While several courses such as the history of first-year studies and practicum courses are specific to the study of the first-year transition, other courses such as the research methods and theory courses can be found in other degree programs as well.

The inception of the degree program came from the inspiration of Dr. Betty Siegel, Kennesaw State University’s president from ’81-’06.

“The faculty and department were inspired to think in a lot of different ways on what the first-year would look like,” Foote said.

Hoerrner and Ralph Rascati, former Dean of University College, discussed a program that would ensure that the next generations of individuals who had a passion for helping first-year students had the kind of training to advance the work.

Hoerrner and Rascati took this idea to a group of faculty members in the department and asked that they “dream” of what a graduate program in first-year studies might look like. After many months and several iterations of a proposal, the degree program was approved by the curriculum committees and the Board of Regents.

The master’s degree is also not your ordinary lecture hall program, because there are no lecture halls or even classrooms for that matter. The degree is entirely online.

“We wanted to ensure that every individual who was interested in the degree program could readily take advantage of it,” Hoerrner explains.

Foote said, “We have people who will probably already be professionals: academic advisors or residents’ hall directors, who have an interest in helping students in their first year. And this gives them flexibility to pursue the degree while they continue to work.”

That’s not all there is to it though, is there? Kennesaw State University has excellent ties to the Confucius Institute in the People’s Republic of China. This degree program being the first of its kind is sure to attract the attention of students worldwide.

Foote said, “If you’re online, you get students from around the state, around the country and around the world. We have people from Scotland and England and all over the world who are interested because it’s the first program of its kind.”

Not every student learns as well from online courses though. The practicum course gives students an opportunity to assist a first-year seminar professor in teaching a first-year seminar.

“They can get some hands-on training and experience with the faculty and the department,” said Foote.

“It’s a very discrete period of time in a student’s life. So we’re building on 30+ years of research that’s focused just on the first year of college,” said Hoerrner. “What we want to do with that knowledge is teach it to the next generation of faculty members and student affairs professionals, where they will advance that knowledge further.”

The degree program’s mission is to educate those passionate about helping students in their first year. The degree administrators also hope that graduates can take their knowledge and take it to places to ensure that every freshman is able to succeed, not just in their first year, but throughout their entire college career.

 

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