Armstrong eases transition for first-year students



The class of 2020 is oriented to life as college students, specifically at Armstrong State University, through formal orientation sessions, group-specific retreats and a year-long program tied to their core curriculum.

According to Assistant Director of Student Life, Allison Lyon, these orientation efforts began as early as May. The Savannah campus, from May to August, hosted over 900 traditional first-year students at a total of seven Navigate Orientation sessions: four overnight sessions and three one-day sessions. Each session features a resource fair, social activities, financial aid meetings and academic advising.

The popular overnight sessions, which house 140-150 students in Windward Commons, will soon become the norm, as all orientation sessions for first-year students will be offered only in an overnight format.

Citing changing trends in the nation’s approach to college orientation and additional time to introduce students to every aspect of Armstrong, Lyon believes this is a change that will benefit all first-year students, regardless of their plans to commute to campus.

Lyon, who is more concerned with helping students fully transition to college life than their housing plans, says, the overnight sessions have “nothing to do with living on-campus.” The extra hours the first-year students spend on the campus and with each other make this decision right for Armstrong’s newest students in her eyes.

Lyon’s team of 25 Navigate leaders and first-year students alike enjoyed the late-night, student-exclusive “connect” session that could only occur during the extended hours. At these “connect” sessions, first-year students heard the unfiltered and shockingly real stories of four Navigate leaders as they transitioned to college life. Every challenge, setback and ultimate victory was laid out before the class of 2020 as a dually cautionary and inspirational tale of what was to come.

To offset the stress of the coming lifestyle changes, the Honors Program sends Armstrong’s brightest and youngest students on a retreat to Epworth By the Sea located on Georgia’s St. Simon’s Island. A total of 73 students attended the orientation retreat after registering for at least one honors class within the core curriculum.

First-year students are invited to join the Honors Program if they have a high school GPA of 3.2 or above and above-average test scores: 1100 combined or above on the SAT or a 24 and above on the ACT. Of the program’s 130 new recruits, the highest test scores were a 1450 combined on the SAT and a 32 on the ACT. The superior intellect of these first-year students was put to the test at Epworth, where they bonded over mind-bending puzzles, ropes courses and team challenges.

For 46 first-year student-athletes, their team will act as their surrogate family. Ashley Lewis, a first-year soccer member, says “[the team] will have so much going on that I don’t think I will really have time to think about being home sick.”

Juggling practices, workouts, games and classes is not an easy task for a student-athlete of any age, but Lewis knows she does not have to face any of these tasks alone. “Participating in a team sport will definitely make transitioning to the college life easier,” she says, but it helps that her professors are “pretty cool.”

No matter how cool first-year students think their pro

fessors are, they may still hesitate to share their concerns about coursework or college in general with a person of authority. They are more likely to voice their fears to another student.

With this knowledge, Greg Anderson expanded Armstrong’s First-Year Experience (FYE) Peer Mentor program, which now provides over 600 first-year students with an older peer mentor who attends a core course and an identically populated weekly seminar alongside the first-year students for the duration of the semester.

“A sort of halfway point” is how Luke Lyman-Barner, a peer mentor to Dr. Rago’s first-year students, would describe his role. “Seeing me in front of the classroom,” he explains, “helps to sort of close that distance a little bit between the students and the professor.”

Despite a rising number of students entering Armstrong with college credit and dual enrollment experience, Anderson believes the FYE program is still vital to the success of all first-year college students. These students may have a “head-start on the decision making and exploratory process” that comprise the initial year of college, he says, but they are “still just out of high school,” which brings with it the “same anxieties and insecurities of a typical first-year student.”

Those anxieties may be as routine as what to expect on a history test or as monumental as questioning their decision to break societal norms, as the class of 2020 has a large number of females declaring science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based majors.

For this reason, Lyman-Barner believes the role of a peer mentor extends beyond the “hospitality” of the classroom and office hours to modeling the “critical thinking” and “work ethic” first-year students must choose to adopt for themselves if they want to be successful in a higher education environment.

Success is heavily reliant upon time management. “Actually, my classes are doing an assignment on that right now,” Lyman-Barner says. The students, he explains, are tasked with filling a planner with “down to the minute details” of their daily lives. The planner’s contents will then be evaluated and used to teach first-year students not only the importance of time management, but also how slight changes could improve their current use of downtime.

Anderson has seen too many first-semester students “grossly underestimate” the amount of time and effort their college-level courses will demand. He hopes that with the help of peer mentors the class of 2020 will develop the “fortitude to be consistent” and a “clear vision” reminiscent of their goal graduation year: 2020.