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First-year advisers tackle transition to college life

Lyon’s new first-year advisers will help freshmen feel at home both on campus and in the classroom.

The First-Year Studies program sent First-Year Advisers Amanda Mathews and Kristi Price to the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Summer Institute on Academic Advising from Monday, July 21, through Friday, July 26. The advisers received intensive training in first-year student development, retention, assessment, evaluation, and leadership.

“We’ll be doing much more than making class schedules for students,” Mathews said. “We are here to help students and will have multiple points of contact throughout the semester.”

According to Vincent Tinto in “Taking retention seriously: Rethinking the first year of college,” the transition into college life can be traumatic for students. They have been separated from their home for the first time and don’t feel like they belong in either their old environment or their new one. The pressures of the first year can lead to “extreme stress, depression, and engagement in risky behaviors.”

Lyon’s First-Year Studies program will help students successfully navigate the transition and become part of the social and academic communities on campus.

“We’re not waiting for the students to determine if they have a need. It might be too late at that point,” Price said. “We’re practicing proactive advising. Our goal is to meet them where they’re at.”

Learning outcomes are under development, she said, to serve as checkpoints for student success throughout the year. Once students declare a major, the first-year advisers will pass the reins to a faculty advisor.

“Faculty advising is still the heartbeat of Lyon,” Mathews said. “In this new model, faculty will now be more free to focus on the specific needs of their declared students, while first-year advisers guide students in considering various majors, among other goals.”

“Any faculty on this campus is a full-time adviser because teaching is advising,” Price said. “As primary-role advisers, we get the opportunity to focus microscopically on the first year experience.”

Mathews and Price said they are grateful to Lyon for allocating funding for them to attend the NACADA Summer Institute. 

“The exposure to the foundational concepts presented at NACADA both affirmed the creation of First-Year Studies,” Price said, “and gave us a vision for how we can evolve it to better serve our students.”

Mathews said they worked in peer groups, collaborating with institutions like Morehouse College on strategies to address the challenges facing students.

“We found that our challenges are the same: for example, attrition due to financial difficulties,” Price said. “We developed an advising syllabus that some of their faculty wanted a copy of. We are new advisers, so having experienced peers say ‘We want to use your ideas’ was incredible!”

Student development strategies weren’t the only thing the advisers brought to the table. The group also won the Downtown Little Rock NACADA Cheese-Dip Cook-Off.

“It was a team-building exercise,” Price said. “It was like Chopped! We had a pantry full of ingredients and had to come up with a winning recipe. Our winning ingredient was chipotle sauce.”

“We are grateful to Lyon for the opportunity to develop as First-Year advisers,” said Mathews. “We are so eager for the arrival of the Class of 2023!”