Finding a niche


by Jessica Savage

With the 2001-02 school year nearing completion, faculty and administrators are concerned with survey results showing that a declining number of first-year students feel a sense of belonging on the Simpson campus.

The Liberal Arts Seminar surveys revealed that most students benefit from the programs and opportunities provided by the seminar.

“We’ve had the Liberal Arts Seminar for seven years and in the past three years there really are not areas that significantly improved or worsened,” said Murphy Waggoner, mathematics professor and director of the LAS program.

Ninety percent of students or more agreed that they are “aware of what electronic library resources are available at Simpson” and they “know at least three students [they] can turn to for help with a personal problem.”

“An area in students’ opinions that look good involve personal relationships with those in their LAS, friends and faculty,” Waggoner said.

One student feels her LAS class heightened her first-year experience.

“I still keep in contact with people in my class. The LAS gave me a chance to build relationships different from regular class,” said freshman Holly Hanson.

Waggoner said that is exactly what the program set out to accomplish.

“The LAS is designed to make the student feel connected to their class, to a faculty member by being an instructor and advisor, to a peer, to services on campus by having them visit Hawley and Student Development, to the community through service projects and discussions and to traditions and philosophies of a liberal arts education through discussions in class, fall convocation and forum events,” Waggoner said.

Although most students felt comfortable with peers and their advisor from their LAS, Waggoner stated that “students feel they can go to other students, but one-third of them do not have a non-student on campus they can turn to.”

62 percent of first year students agreed that they know two employees (staff, coaches and faculty) that they can turn to with a personal problem.

Waggoner also stated that this trend is consistent with numbers from past years as well. In 1999, 52 percent agreed with this statement, compared to 63 percent in 2000.

Waggoner suggested that students “find a faculty member and get to know them on a personal level.” She also said discussing new ideas and asking questions are important and can help a student gain a new relationship with a faculty member.

One area that has dropped since last year is a feeling of connection and responsibility to the Simpson community.

“The one thing that has changed in the last few years is that first year students have a decreasing sense of loyalty to Simpson College,” Waggoner said.

“I don’t feel a strong tie to Simpson,” freshman Tracy Loynachan said.

Loynachan stated that although she learned about the campus and met other students, the LAS program did not help her to feel a part of the Simpson community.

Many students on the other hand have found the first year program helpful, as shown in the survey results.

“One of the areas we are proud of is that consistently more than 90 percent of students feel comfortable with their advisor,” Waggoner said. “That was one of the original purposes of the LAS.”

Another point of positive feedback about the program showed that 69 percent of first-year students said “In the future, I will choose to attend some Forum events on my own.” This number has increased from 58% in 1999 and 59% in 2000.

Waggoner said a group of faculty and administrators will look over the survey results, address any concerns and look for solutions and goals for the future.

There are two parts to the discussion, which Waggoner said included the surveys and also the comments they have received from students.

In evaluating the program, Waggoner said they are “not just looking at a bunch of numbers, but are looking at what the students have said too.”

According to Waggoner, no major changes are in the making for the fall 2002 Liberal Arts Seminar.