Stephen F. Austin State University

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SFA 101 freshman seminar promotes academic success

June 13, 2013 - Donna Parish
SFA 101 - SFA 101, typically offered during the fall semester, teaches freshmen about the advantages of utilizing university resources such as the Ralph W. Steen Library, the Involvement Center, the Academic Assistance and Resource Center, Career Services, and the Academic Advising Center.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Students completing Stephen F. Austin State University's freshman seminar course, SFA 101, have higher retention and graduation rates than students not completing the course, according to a recent report.

The SFA Office of Institutional Research compared 2,559 full-time, first-time undergraduate students' one-year retention rates and found that students completing SFA 101 had a 10-percent higher retention rate than those who did not.

In addition, about 48 percent of full-time, first-time undergraduate students completing SFA 101 in fall 2006 graduated within six years. By comparison, a six-year graduation rate of about 37 percent was reported for those who did not complete the course.

"The numbers speak for themselves," said Dr. Tim Clipson, SFA 101 coordinator and professor of business communication. "Students who take SFA 101 are more successful than those who don't."

The one-credit-hour course, typically offered during the fall semester, teaches freshmen about the advantages of utilizing university resources such as the Ralph W. Steen Library, the Involvement Center, the Academic Assistance and Resource Center, Career Services, and the Academic Advising Center. Instructors also offer information emphasizing the skills freshmen will need to be successful college students, including time management, critical thinking, and study and test-taking skills.

SFA 101 classes meet twice a week and are taught by SFA faculty and staff members who are "SFA savvy" - having been employed a minimum of three years at SFA and holding at least a master's degree. Each class also has an SFA student instructor who acts as a mentor and works with the faculty or staff member to help teach the course. Student instructors must be either a junior, senior or graduate student.

"The freshmen get to know a real, living, breathing, successful college student who's been where they are now," said Debbie Kiesel, SFA 101 instructor and director of the Academic Advising Center. "This is huge because the students immediately feel they have someone they can relate to."

Damian Funches, an SFA senior communication studies major from Carrollton, works as an SFA 101 student instructor. He says the benefits are clear. "It helps you feel connected," Funches said. "You learn how to get involved and become part of SFA. Being new, you know where to go for help, and your instructor and student instructor are there to guide you."

Emily Jefferson, a family and consumer sciences graduate student from Newton, and three-time SFA 101 student instructor, agrees. "My favorite part is it's the only SFA class that's made up of 100-percent freshmen, so it's truly a group of your peers," Jefferson said. "All the students are transitioning to college life. It provides a setting for you to bond. It bridges the gap between the institution and the student."

As freshmen, both Funches and Jefferson said they first learned about SFA 101 during freshman orientation. A discussion about the course and its benefits led to their enrollment in the freshman seminar. They said the course is optional, but freshmen are highly encouraged to enroll.

About 65 percent of first-year students enroll in the course. In fall 2013, Clipson said he expects there will be 68 sections with between 20 and 25 freshmen in each section. He said about one-third of the sections are specialized - comprising students working toward a specific major - while two-thirds are designed for everyone.

During the class, students also learn about SFA traditions, academic integrity, how to deal with homesickness and money-management skills. Kiesel said she's taught the course for 10 years and feels fortunate to be part of her students' transition to college life.

"So many of my students have no idea what they want to major in," Kiesel said. "I've found that this course helps students support each other in working toward making that decision. They are on this quest together. The class provides them with a place to ask questions, gain understanding and grow."

Students are encouraged to register for the course during summer freshman orientation. However, enrollment also is offered during regular registration. For more information about SFA 101, contact Gloria Montes, program associate, at (936) 468-2188.