Beginning the 2002 fall semester, about 10 FHSU freshmen enrolled in a new program that creates a living/learning community for first-year students who wish to participate.
Freshman Interest Groups -- or FIGs for short -- is a pilot program that promises to go a step farther in the education of students. A collaborative effort between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, FIGs fosters a structured family environment in the dorms to introduce learning outside of the classroom.
"Freshman Interest Groups provide enriched learning opportunities for freshmen living in the residence halls," said Dr. Diane Pfeifer, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. "The classroom is in the residence halls in which you bring education into the living environment."
FIGs are designed to introduce first-year students to the culture of higher education. It initiates incoming freshmen to the process of study and research while maintaining a social element.
The FIG program is broken into four main education courses to create diversity for students' interests. Students are placed in a section of McMindes or Wiest that houses other freshmen with the same area of interest.
Students are enrolled in a year-long course, called a learning community, suited to the course that they have chosen. Each program is specifically designed to teach life education and skills that pertain to one of the four communities.
Currently, the leadership community is the only active group in the pilot program. This community focuses on giving students an opportunity to explore the skills, principles and knowledge that foster a meaningful involvement in communities.
The Honors Learning Community will give ambitious students training for job interviews, work skills and employee relations. Participants are enrolled in at least one honors course to attend this class.
The International Learning Community will pair an American student with an international student as roommates. This will give students wishing to study abroad the opportunity to learn about another culture.
The Making Tracks Learning Community is for undecided majors. They will be given the opportunity to talk with advisors about careers and to receive education about making life decisions.
"Learning communities create an environment that motivates and inspires students to devote more time and energy to educational activities both in and outside the classroom," Pfeifer said. "These learning communities focus on expanding opportunities for meaningful contacts between FHSU students and faculty, and sponsoring activities which broaden students' exposure to and engagement in their liberal arts education."
Students report their progress and concerns to a peer mentor for the community. The peer mentors are older university students who wish to have an effect on incoming freshmen. "As a peer mentor, I have the chance to continue making new friends with the underclassmen," said Cassie Belmear, FHSU junior and peer mentor for the female group. "Many times I can offer advice to help students avoid mistakes I wish someone had warned me about."
"This is a great networking program. For many students who come to FHSU knowing no one, this is a great way to connect with people immediately," Belmear said. "It is also beneficial with everyone being in a common class so they can have someone to call with questions when adjusting to the switch of high school to college.
One of the FIG program's many goals is to abolish the fallacy that learning is only limited to the classroom. Instead, the program is intended to demonstrate that learning takes place in each facet of a university student's daily life and continues throughout their lifetime.
Student development happens in two ways: academically and socially. FIGs' objective is to enhance it.
"FIG-type programs are proven vehicles for helping entering freshmen launch a more successful college experience more quickly," said Steve Culver, director of Residential Life. "Taking part in a FIG program will make that whole university experience more satisfying and a whole lot more fun."
The FIG program already has almost a dozen freshmen participating in the pilot. Once the program officially begins during the fall 2003 semester, all four learning communities will be active and will accommodate 20-25 students each.
The four learning communities, plus some new ones that are in development, will allow incoming freshmen a wider variety of choices and attract students from more diverse majors.
"My hopes are to grow and expand for each department on campus," Pfeifer said.