New Freshmen Program Takes Aims at Long-Term Student Success

Shawntae Teague, Staff Reporter

The transition from high school graduate to college freshman is often difficult. Having to learn the ins and outs of a new location, newfound responsibility, as well as juggling the financial, social, and academic aspects of college life, culminates in a daunting first year experience. It is with this in mind that A&M – Commerce’s First-Year TRAC program was created.

The First-Year TRAC program (Transforming Relationships and Academic Connections) was created by university faculty with the aim to create an enriching and smoother experience for freshmen.

Tabetha Adkins, Dean of the University College, had a hand in the creation and implementation of the program.

“I want our students to come here feeling like, ‘I can do this, I was prepared for this. I have support here that’s going to help me figure out the hard part,’” Adkins said.

The program consists of six components: New Student Orientation, Lion Camp, student mentors, Signature Courses, the Book in Common, and First-Year TRAC events on campus.

At Lion Camp after orientation, freshmen meet their mentor, a trained college student who is recognized for being both an outstanding student and leader. The mentors serve as both a source of information through curriculum in weekly meetings and a person to go to for questions that students are equipped to answer.

During orientation, the Book in Common, an assigned book that students must read and engage in, comes into play. The Book in Common is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. The book was the product of a decade’s worth of work. This is a contributing factor to the book’s use for the program.

“I feel like it’s a powerful message to send to someone who’s about to realize that work does pay off and that they’re going to have to work hard in order to do well,” Adkins said. “I think that that’s a really important thing for a person who is thinking about beginning their career to see, because it shows that her perseverance paid off.”

The book is used alongside coursework in the Signature Courses. Each of the 12 offered courses -six per semester- are taught by a full-time professor, rather than an adjunct or graduate assistant, in order to provide students with a permanent fixture of the university.

The aim of the Signature Courses themselves is to engage students in content-based classes to improve students’ critical thinking, communications skills, and sense of social responsibility.

Some courses center around topics related to major disciplines, such as “Music in the Movies” taught by David Davies, Assistant Professor of Music, while others are broader in scope

such as “Wtf (Where’s the Food): Food, Culture, And Society,” taught by Yvonne Villanueva-Russell, Associate Professor of Sociology.

According to Adkins, students who are engaged on campus, whether it is through groups, clubs, officer positions, etc., are more likely to have a higher GPA. Though academics are an important aspect of college, the faculty and mentors’ purpose in the program is to encourage freshmen to also see the importance of the cultural and social nature of college that can ultimately contribute to their success.

“Creating relationships, going to hear people speak, creating a network that’s going to be your professional and personal network for the rest of your life; that’s an important part of college too,” Adkins said.

When students make it through the program, they will have developed a sense of not only accomplishment but belonging.

“In a place as big as a university, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the crowd,” Adkins concluded. “The biggest thing I’m trying to affect is that they feel like they belong here and that they can do this.”