NewU Helps Freshmen Navigate College Life

First Year Experience program offers guidance on adjusting to life at George Washington University and beyond.

Renee Kashawlic, assistant director of First Year Experience, teaches students abut juggling academics and extracurriculars during a NewU time management workshop.
September 29, 2014

By Brittney Dunkins

Like most college freshmen, Colonials enter their first year at the George Washington University with lots of questions: How do I connect with faculty? Where can I buy healthy food? Who can I talk to about my career plans?

Creators of NewU hope the 12-week crash course on college life provides answers to such questions for newcomers to the GW campus.

“NewU helps students feel connected to being a GW student,” said Jeff Llewellyn, director of GW’s First Year Experience. “We looked at other institutions and saw that successful transition programs involve academics, co-curricular engagement and personal development. They show students what it means to be a part of a university community.”

Launched this month by the Center for Student Engagement’s First Year Experience program, NewU breaks down the basics of student life from connecting with faculty members and learning safety tips to fitness opportunities and time management skills.

More than 12 university departments including the Multicultural Student Services Center, the Center for Career Services, the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education and the GW Police Department collaborated to plan events around weekly themes such as “Colonial Pride,” “Campus Safety and U” and “Healthy U.”

Events are free for students and are held on the Mount Vernon and Foggy Bottom campuses.

The first week of activities, themed “District Adventures,” started on Sept. 1. It was the first time that some students used Metro, said Renee Kashawlic, assistant director of First Year Experience. They traveled to The Boathouse at Fletcher’s Cove, Eastern Market and other local destinations.

“We want students to learn early-on that living in D.C. is a part of the GW experience,” Ms. Kashawlic said. “We hope that they get out of the residence halls and study on the quad or visit the National Mall—the city is their campus.”

Since planning began last spring, NewU staff has been working closely with Resident Advisors (RAs), like junior Dor Hirsh Bar Gai, to plan events that build a sense of community among students.

“Programming is purposefully flexible,” Ms. Kashawlic said. “If an RA says that their residents prefer to meet on Sunday rather than Tuesday, we try to schedule events that work for them. The goal is to involve as many students as possible.”

“NewU helps students feel connected to being a GW student” - Jeff Llewellyn, director of GW’s First Year Experience

Mr. Bar Gai, a second-year RA, said NewU has been an opportunity to discuss sometimes-difficult topics with his 58 residents in Somers Hall such as religion, diversity and politics. He added that the flexibility to independently create events has opened up new ways to connect.

I value cooking and healthy eating so we had a community cooking night focused on affordable healthy food options,” Mr. Bar Gai said. “There’s been a positive response, and I plan to have ongoing cooking nights throughout the semester.”

Upcoming events will be on flyers posted in residence halls and shared online and through the Mount Vernon and Foggy Bottom Campus list serve.

The “Faculty and U” speed-networking mixer will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Thurston Hall and at 7 p.m. Thursday at West Hall. The event provides an opportunity for students to meet faculty members.  For 15 minutes, each student and a faculty member will chat about ways students can get involved academically at GW.

Kathryn A. Kleppinger, assistant professor of French and Francophone studies, advises students to make connections with professors by asking basic questions.

“Asking what classes we teach, why we like our subjects and what we like about GW is enough to get a conversation going—faculty are never as intimidating or as scary as students think we are,” Dr. Kleppinger said. “We’re all living in the same community, so we share many experiences from different perspectives.”

The first college transition program took place at Lee College in 1882, according to the National Resource Center for First Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina. The courses— often referred to as first year experience or first year seminar—fell out of fashion but regained traction in the 1970s.

According to the 2009 National Survey on First Year Seminars, more than 87 percent of U.S. colleges and universities offer some type of freshman transition program.

Mr. Llewellyn hopes NewU and FutureU, the post-graduate prep program that launched last year, will parallel Convocation and Commencement and serve as bookends to the GW experience.

“This is the first year of the program, so we are looking to see what works,” Mr. Llewellyn said. “We hope that NewU can become another resource for students and a guide to university life.”