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YCP’s First Year Experience: Succeeding through the big change

April 19, 2017
First Year Experience

The beginning of college is always a transition, but for New Jersey native Haley Riess, it was a major move, making her way to the York College of Pennsylvania campus.

“Coming here was a big change,” she says. “I live four hours from here, and I didn’t know anybody.”

Thankfully, the college is prepared to ease the transition for all its freshmen, regardless of how far they are from home.

Through the First Year Experience – a series of events aimed at helping students navigate college life, the campus community, and what comes next for them as emerging adults – freshmen are able to make connections in and out of the classroom.

The overall first-year experience

First Year Experience is paired with First Year Seminar, an intensive first-semester course, with topics ranging from pop culture to philosophy. First Year Experience events are often tied to First Year Seminar courses but not always – and they’re open to all freshmen.

“The purpose of this is to create a learning experience outside of class that relates both to sometimes specific topics and other times about transitioning successfully to college and emerging adulthood,” says Dianne Creagh, director of First Year Experience. “We have events across campus that sometimes are academic in nature and sometimes just fun and interesting for students.”

Haley went to a mix of just-for-fun and educational First Year Experience events.

“There were bonfires and a Halloween party,” she says, “but there were also really educational things, such as the sleep talk, where we learned how sleep is important to us. There was also a financial discussion on things such as how to save money and build good credit.”

Sneaking in some learning

The goal of First Year Experience is something Dianne likes to call “sneaky learning.”

“We try to do things related to their academic transition,” she says. “And we try to mix learning and engagement in the best way we can.”

That means making fun events that also involve an educational component.

An event may be required for students in a particular First Year Seminar, she notes, but it’s just a way to bring what’s going on in class to life.

An example of this is when Forgotten Friends, a reptile sanctuary, visits campus in November. While students in the Animal Rights and Human Responsibilities class are learning things tied to their course – such as how to help a reptile if you find one out of place – everybody also gets to have an Instagram moment.

“At the end, students get to hold a boa constrictor and have their picture taken,” Dianne says. “It’s a great example of that ‘sneaky learning.’ The students may love the topic, but they’re also learning about very serious subjects.”

And that’s the beauty of First Year Experience.

“It isn’t just about campus engagement, although that’s part of it,” Dianne says. “It’s taking the learning from inside class and bringing it into the real world, and taking what you’re learning outside of class and bringing that back into class. There’s much deeper learning, much more advanced processing of information.”

Becoming part of campus

Admittedly, while she appreciated the educational experiences, Haley had something else in mind for her First Year Experience.

“My main goal was to meet as many people as possible,” she says. “By going to different events, I was able to meet so many new people.

“I think it really brought me out of my shell,” Haley continues. “In high school, I had my friend group, and I didn’t have to talk to anyone else if I didn’t want to. But now I’m more comfortable doing that.”

And whether your home is four hours or four minutes from York, Haley recommends that all incoming freshmen take full advantage of First Year Experience.

“Go to as many events as you can,” she says. “You never know who you are going to meet – each event is different with different people there.”