What key opportunities do you want your incoming students to have right at the start of their collegiate experience? Organizing these events and experiences into a Co-Curricular Path designed for First Year students is a great way to get students started on the right foot! First Year Experience paths can start as early as Orientation and extend as long as through the first semester or year.
Many campuses choose to focus this type of path only on the first few critical weeks of a student's experience. These paths are typically designed to expose students to a variety of opportunities and assist students in finding their fit on campus while also ensuring students learn about important tools for their success at college, or even meet specific orientation requirements. Some campuses structure this path alongside a First Year Experience course (also known as "University 101") and ensure mandatory student participation so that administrators can track their first-year students' involvement. Other campuses structure the path as optional but create a fun incentive program for students to complete the path. Read a few of our favorite examples below.
"The Well Connected Challenge" at Elon University
Elon University developed the Well Connected Challenge to support students' transition to Elon and track the involvement patterns of first year students during their first six weeks on campus. This pathway paralleled a campus-wide communication plan sharing information about on-campus involvement opportunities ideal for first year students. Students progress through their choice of key early on-campus events and complete a final reflection to complete the path, but even without total completion, the path itself provides administrators with key insight into the early student experience.
The path guides students through three domains: Community, Late Night and Weekend Events, and Wellness. Between the three domains, students attend 5 total events within their first six weeks. Each domain requires just one or two items to be complete and offers multiple choices for the students on how they might achieve completion. We love how each domain is also branded with a recognizable icon.
By organizing each of these activities into separate domains, the campus can quickly reference the Users by Path Progress report to determine which of the three identified themes see progress more quickly than others.
It's important to be mindful of the details when building a path for a large audience. First year students might not yet be comfortable approaching staff with questions or navigating university resources on their own, so fleshing out detailed item descriptions can be even more helpful to a path's overall success.
In the example above, the administrators have provided rich detail in the item description about what this item means and why it is important. Students have a quick point of contact easily listed using the built-in path tools. When browsing the events eligible to fulfill this path item, it's also helpful that administrators have used eye-catching event cover photos and descriptive text for their event descriptions to attract attention to the event.
Cooperative collaboration in communicating details about the path is key! The Well Connected Challenge at Elon incorporated Elon 101, Orientation, and Residence Life staff to get the word out about the path and help students realize it as a tool for navigating their involvement options on campus. Marketing isn't just for students - the staff behind this path also made sure that campus partners were well-aware of the program so that they might post relevant events to Engage in a timely manner.
In addition to marketing the path, another key priority for Elon was assessing student completion. While the path did play a role in creating a co-curriculum for first year students, staff were equally excited about the prospect of measuring student involvement during this key period. Through reporting, the campus was able to determine that last year over 60% of students complete at least one domain during their first 6 weeks - and they can also identify the students who don't complete a domain at all. Using this data and continuing to push attendance tracking initiatives helped the campus to ensure that within only the first 2 weeks, over 50% of enrolled students already had at least 1 item in the path complete, and 1 student already completed the entire challenge!
Students who complete all three domains of the Well Connected Challenge are invited to an exclusive reception with the university President to celebrate their success so far and propel them into even further campus engagement with the campus.
"The Longhorn Way" at The University of Texas at Austin
The Longhorn Way was developed by the department of New Student Services as a way to extend students' orientation experience, helping them remain engaged throughout their first year and connect them to different offices and resources using technology.
Part of what makes the Longhorn Way so strong as a FYE Path is that it is rooted in a student driven experience. Once the concept for the path was born as an idea, administrators gathered with some of their second, third, and fourth year student leaders to gain feedback for the direction of the Longhorn Way. Instead of trying to invent what first year students should be doing, the administrators went to the students themselves, asking the question, "What do you wish you had known about in your first year?" They found students had many answers about resources they wish they knew existed, conferences or events they wish they had attended, and opportunities they wish they knew were available. It was from these answers that the items in the path were created, in the form of passed down knowledge from student to student.
New students are automatically enrolled, making adoption for the program simple! Students see the path on their homepage of the Engage community right upon logging in, without having to opt into participation. Initially, the Path was created and was not marketed in any way to students, aside from them being automatically enrolled and seeing the path upon logging in. In the first year, over 150 students completed the path in its entirety, without any marketing done on behalf of the department! This year, the department plans to incorporate information about the Longhorn Way at all orientation programs, introducing students more intentionally to further increase participation.
Students are encouraged to simply complete five items during their first two semesters, and in doing so, they are incentivized with a free t-shirt from the department. The items in the Path are structured to be self-reported and require students write reflections about their experience to gain credit. The Path is structured into four domains: Academics & Resources, Leadership & Involvement, Health & Safety, and Pride & Traditions. Each domain houses numerous options for fulfillment, though students only need to complete 1-2 items for each domain to complete the Path. You can view examples in the screenshot below; note how the items can be carried from year to year, such as "Participate in Intramural Sports" or "Attend an Athletic Event." Another goal of the program is to highlight activities students are likely already taking part in, making completion of the path simpler for new students.
Very little administrative oversight is needed for the Longhorn Way, making it an ideal path for the department. The path succeeds in engaging students and reaching departmental goals of connecting students to resources without a majorly heavy lift on behalf of the professional staff and graduate students in the office. Because students are automatically enrolled in the Path, the path requires less maintenance on behalf of professional staff who do not have to individually select or enroll students from year-to-year.
Additionally, the path administrators strategically configured the path to use many "evergreen" items, or items that can carry from year-to-year without adjustment. These include items based on self-reporting of attendance (therefore not requiring updated criteria) and events and opportunities that are unlikely to change from year to year. Because of this smart structure, the maintenance of the path only requires a short period of upkeep each year to ensure all items in the path are still relevant and up-to-date, without the necessity of creating individually new items or criteria each year.
The department of New Student Services at UT Austin has created excellent resources around the Longhorn Way on their website where you can read more information about the program or contact their team directly.