The First-Year Experience: Freshman Survival in The College Wild

The typical college freshman must survive late-night cram sessions, little sleep, and the dreaded 15-pound weight gain in their new environment.

And UMobile is making sure freshmen students not only survive, but thrive in their first year away from home.

Each new freshman at UMobile is required to enroll in Freshman Seminar. Freshman Seminar is a transition course provided through the office of Student Success and introduces students to college life at UMobile while fostering successful habits and independent responsibility.

Current Student Relations Supervisor Sara Parker initiated Freshman Seminar in 2003. At the time, Parker was the university counselor and saw firsthand the challenges of freshman integration into college life.

“When I started the program in 2003 it was not just the needs of our freshmen that caught my attention, but a nationwide trend of colleges and universities working to improve student success by focusing on the ‘first-year experience’ of college students,” says Parker.

Today, more than 250 freshmen are integrated into UMobile life through Freshman Seminar, a crucial component of UMobile’s First-Year Experience. Freshmen are placed in different seminar classes that coincide with their Ram Rush Families for new student orientation.

According to Shirley Sutterfield, director of student retention, the university has experienced major growth in the areas of retention and student engagement. Since the Freshman Seminar program was established in 2003, UMobile’s retention rates have risen significantly above the national average. ¬

“When students are transitioning from high school to college, they need some direct guidance on what that transition looks like,” says Sutterfield.

Throughout the semester, students are required to conduct self-assessments ranging from personality profiles and strengths-tests to study-habit surveys and learning style inventories. This self-discovery helps the student understand their role and place in the college environment.

“Helping students have a ‘sense of belonging’ is crucial to college success,” says Sutterfield.

While Ram Rush offers freshmen an environment to have fun and become acclimated to college life, the reality of responsibility hits during classes the following two weeks.

Finding Their Way

“As a freshman, it’s intimidating to ask questions,” says Brooke Catchpole, university counselor.

Catchpole is the coordinator for Freshman Seminar and the First-Year Experience, as well as one of three certified counselors on the Student Success staff. She believes that creating a safe and nurturing environment for freshmen to succeed will pave the way for college success.

“We want to make an early connection with every freshman on campus, setting them up for success from day one,” says Catchpole. “Ram Rush provides us the opportunity to be personal with them, and help them on an individual basis– even when things aren’t going well.”

As students progress through the semester, many will add or drop classes, and even change majors. Catchpole offers academic success coaching for students that are struggling with classes or need academic direction. Often, she finds that a simple change in students’ study habits or better time management will make a significant improvement in test scores.

“It is inspiring seeing the light bulb come on for them,” she says. “It’s the switch from them saying ‘What am I doing here,’ to feeling connected to the university and their future calling.”

Through the continued success of Freshman Seminar, there has been a growing need for individual interaction. Catchpole implemented “peer leaders” into Freshman Seminar in 2012. These upperclassmen assist the professor with weekly preparation and facilitating discussions in the classroom.

“The addition of peer leaders has helped the success of Freshman Seminar, both in student retention and the visible connection of freshmen and upperclassmen,” says Catchpole.

Logan Harvey, a sophomore biology major from Crawfordville, FL was selected as a peer leader for fall semester 2013. She believes Freshman Seminar was a key part of her assimilation into college life.

“Through the worksheets, self-assessments, and class discussion, Freshman Seminar really showed me peace that I was indeed in God’s will by being at UMobile,” says Harvey. “Now, as a peer leader, I love the fact that I get to invest in the future of UMobile students and teach them the ins and outs of college to ease their transition.”

“Freshman Seminar gave me the knowledge I needed to become an independent student,” says Joel King, a senior peer leader from Montgomery, AL. “As a peer leader, I want to give freshmen the best college experience possible, and I believe that starts with freshman year.”

Thriving After College

In addition to classroom learning, students are given opportunities to practice job preparation through interview and resume workshops. Brenda Davis, coordinator of career development, provides these services to students as a way for them to practice real-world scenarios before they graduate.

“There are two great needs for our freshmen students: verbal skills and written skills,” says Davis. “I want to make sure they can communicate effectively with people.”

Davis also developed a guide booklet called “Freshman Year to Dream Career.” This guide offers a four-year plan covering all aspects of job preparation, including academic planning, campus/community involvement, personal growth, and internship opportunities.

Davis believes there is a strong correlation between these preparations and successful transitions after graduation.

“We want to make sure our students are changing the world,” says Davis. “But we also want to make sure that our students are changed so that they can integrate appropriately into the workforce.”

Through an institution focused on learning, faith and leadership, Davis wants to see UMobile graduates use their knowledge and influence out in the world and in the workplace.

“We want them to use who they are as God’s gift to change the world– not only for the Kingdom of God, but in their respective fields as well,” she says.

About the Author

Trey Taulbee


Trey received his Bachelor of Science in Communication from UMobile and his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism from Full Sail University. He has worked in enrollment services, campus life, and now as a member of the marketing department at UMobile. Additionally, Trey co-owns a photography business with his wife, Michelle, specializing in wedding and portrait photography. When Trey isn’t holding a camera or perusing the office for snacks, he is busy exploring the eastern shore of Alabama (camera in hand) with his wife, Michelle, son, Jack and dogs Cammie & Malone.