Some freshmen unsure about information-heavy SC programming


by Ethan Zierke, Staff Reporter

This year’s freshman class is debuting college papers, applying for work-study positions and researching study abroad opportunities. By the end of this year, however, nearly one-fifth of Simpson freshmen will have packed up their toothbrushes and headed elsewhere, according to U.S. News & World Report.

In order to confront this issue, Simpson looked to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which recommended well-developed first-year programs as a best practice in liberal arts.

Freshman Zach Brod said the degree to which Simpson carried out first-year programming took him by surprise.

“At first I thought it was a bit annoying, having to meet as a group all the time for every activity that was required for freshmen,” Brod said. “I expected a few meetings here and there, but it was flooded with stuff we had to do.”

Since the institution of the “Engaged Citizenship” curriculum in fall 2011, Simpson faculty have been developing a first-year program known as the Simpson Colloquium. The goal of this first-year program: keeping students informed on big questions while keeping toothbrushes at Simpson sinks.

“The idea of first-year programs in and of itself is to help students transition to a college environment,” said Tracy Dinesen, academic director of the first-year program at Simpson College. “You’ve left your support network behind, you may know a couple people when you get here, but you ultimately have to recreate that network with academics in mind.”

Jim Hayes, associate dean and director of retention and student services, said these connections are intended to get freshmen thinking about their vocation early on.

“If people have a sense of purpose, it tends to give them a sense of engagement,” Hayes said. “If they’re trying to get somewhere, they’ll engage more in the processes required to achieve their goals.”

Despite what seems like overkill to freshmen, the numbers show that, in the long run, the Simpson Colloquium has had a positive impact on student engagement. Simpson’s retention rate is 10 percent higher than the national private college average of 70.2 percent, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“The literature states that the more contacts and connections students make during their first semester on campus, the more successful they will be throughout their college career. You need a multitude of people to support you through that process,” Dinesen said.

In addition to providing freshmen with academic support and important connections, the Simpson Colloquium aims to integrate students into the Simpson community. Senior Cort Singleton said the Simpson Colloquium helped him decide what to study by taking him out of his comfort zone.

“Entering Simpson as an undecided major, the class gave me experience in a different field of study,” Singleton said. “Most importantly, I was introduced to an entire group of people I may not have ever met.”

According to Dinesen, one of the most important things about Simpson’s first-year program is how it reflects the values of a liberal arts institution by encouraging students to diversify their education early on.

“We want to give students time to explore and encourage them to consider other things in addition where they think they’re going,” Dinesen said. “Simpson is not a school where you come, complete your major and leave.”