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Instructors attempt to build a community through First Year Launch program

Instructors attempt to build a community through First Year Launch program

By Alx Lee Indy Staff Writer

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 | Number of views (1123)

First Year Experience, a semester-long program designed to connect freshman students with mentorship through Fort Lewis College faculty, started this fall. 

Michelle Bonanno, the First Year Experience coordinator, said instructors could create a community within the classes and build a relationship with students. 

The First Year development team consisted of seven instructors from multiple departments: 

Michelle Bonanno

Coordinator of First-Year Experience

Majel Boxer


Callie Cole


  Paul DeBell

Political Science

Cynthia Dott


Julia Love

 Academic Affairs

William Mira


Jillian Wenburg



How this helps FLC retention rate 

First Year Experience is an initiative, among many, brought about to improve student retention, Bonanno said.

It was observed, by the First Year Experience committee, that many students often leave within the first year and second year of college, said Bonanno. 

According to the U.S Department of Education, 61 percent of students returned to FLC after their freshman year in 2017.

Students don’t feel a sense of community, therefore retention rates drop, Bonanno said. The First Year Experience sets a goal in place to offer first-year students a chance to connect with faculty and be surrounded with support in all aspects of FLC.

Through many programs like the First Year Experience at other schools, there is a result in student retention, Bonanno said. 

These programs, referred to as High-Impact Practices, seek to improve student retention and engagement according to the Association of American Colleges & Universities.  

 “If we convince students to come to Fort Lewis, we want to follow through on that promise that we can support them to be successful,” Bonanno said. 

Bonanno said there are plans for a Sophomore Experience, expected to start for the Fall 2020 semester.  

Departments are looking at a community-based curriculum for second-year students to encourage community learning and outreach, she said. 


Courses offered

The courses offered for this first run of First Year Experience were chosen around instructor and student schedules, Bonanno said. 

Instructors had the opportunity to teach something they were passionate about, either it being in their department or not, Bonanno said. 

There were more proposals for courses than courses offered this semester, Jillian Wenburg, assistant engligh professor and committee member of First Year Experience, said.

“That indicates to me that we have this robust program where it’s not going to be the same classes every semester,” Wenburg said.  

Freshmen were offered a wide range of courses through First Year Experience, from “Health & Wellness” to “Science & Chemistry,” Wenburg said. 

Ethan Goatson, FLC freshman, enrolled in the course Bend Light To Your Will, he said. He learned about liquid nitrogen, something outside of his major. 

Tom Stritikus, president of Fort Lewis College, taught Leadership in Education, Wenburg said. 

Callie Cole, FLC chemistry professor, focused on chemistry and blew things up, but some people taught things that were outside their typical teaching curriculum, Bonanno said. 

Wenburg, who is an assistant professor in the English department, taught a yoga class titled Find Mountain Pose. 

Wenburg has been a trained yoga instructor since 2014 and dealt with severe anxiety in college, she said. Her goal for the class was to demystify yoga and bring yoga resources to students.

While teaching Find Mountain Pose, Wenburg noticed that students were more comfortable asking questions, she said. 

Some students had no understanding of a syllabus or office hours, she said. As they started asking questions, she was able to take the opportunity to address these issues within the classroom.

For the course Urban Sketching, the instructor got the students out of the classroom, Gishie said. The class hiked down the Sky Steps and sketched the downtown buildings, she said. 

“It was a fun experience,” she said.  

Goatson said First Year Experience was individualized and thinks FLC should continue offering First Year Experience to freshmen. 

Tehani Waahila, a FLC freshman, said she prefers freshman orientation to the first-year experience because it encourages students to get to know each other in a bigger group setting. 

“When your stuck in a classroom, it’s more of, I’m going to keep to myself kind of thing,” Waahila said. 

The First Year committee is assessing through course evaluations and focus groups to allow for change and growth based off this first semester, as well as celebrating the successes, Bonanno said. 

“That’s what good teaching is always like,” Bonanno said. “We learn as we do it, and we kind of adapt from there.”


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