By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—This month, two dozen incoming freshmen from the class of 2020 are getting a head start on university.
The freshmen are taking part in FAST Break, short for Freshman Academic Support and Transition, an academic learning and social experience designed to give incoming students a taste of college-level academic expectations that also provides a chance to get acquainted with campus, faculty, advisors and one another.
This year’s participants from Indiana and Kentucky are spending one week in mathematics, writing and speech “boot camps” while also enjoying common meals, service learning workshops, scavenger hunts and other bonding experiences.
IU Southeast has been offering boot camps in writing and math for several years, to help current students keep or improve skills in these areas over the summer months. In 2015, FAST Break was created with new students in mind, in order to ease their step up into college and address the issues of student retention and success.
It is known that that better-prepared students are more successful in their transition to college, and that because of this early success, they are more likely to stay in school and graduate. So-called “summer bridge” programs like FAST Break have helped other schools improve their retention and graduation rates significantly.
Last year, FAST Break debuted at IU Southeast with sessions devoted to academic skills. Based on feedback, this year’s program has added a few wrinkles.
It now consists of two sessions, each lasting one week. Students engage in academic school-specific areas – the first session is tailored to students of the schools of business, arts and letters and education, while the second focuses on content relating to nursing, natural sciences and social sciences. The students also stay the entire week in the lodges, becoming familiar with residence life, and there is a graduation ceremony at the end of the week. In addition, FAST Break has added a service learning component.
“By participating in FAST Break, the students will start day one of their fall semester classes with the tools they need to be successful,” said Elaine Haub, dean of the School of Natural Sciences, who together with Dr. Samantha Earley, former dean of the School of Arts and Letters, and Christina Thompson-Resz, advisor in the School of Education, organized the program. “They will know the location of the tutoring services, have met faculty and staff from their school of interest, and gained skills in the areas of mathematics, writing and speech.”
While the atmosphere of FAST Break is relaxed, the coursework is serious and linked to tangible academic targets. By the end of the math component, for example, students are expected to have identified their own strengths and weaknesses, increased their readiness for their chosen class and become able to solve problems using mathematical and logical approaches.
In writing, the students visit the Writing Center and gain proficiency in navigating the Writing Center Online Writing Lab (OWL), in addition to identifying the hallmarks of good college-level writing and understanding IU rules on plagiarism.
In addition to school-specific skill-building, the program also introduces concepts of critical thinking that are crucial to independent research and innovation.
IU Southeast’s culture of service learning and community engagement is incorporated through workshops on homelessness, community nursing and social media, as well as a session devoted to the work of the campus’ Children’s Center.
Faculty, including deans, play an active and prominent role in the program, which helps introduce students to the uniquely collaborative culture of teaching and learning at IU Southeast, and breaks down barriers.
“Faculty are sometimes seen as intimidating, yet first-year students need to learn to ask faculty for help when they need it,” Haub said. “By incorporating faculty into the program, we hope to lessen the intimidation factor.”
Brooke Jackson of Brownstown, Ind. is an Elementary Education major entering her sophomore year at IU Southeast. She participated in FAST Break last year, and has returned as a facilitator..
The program helped her to find her way at IU Southeast, both academically and socially.
“The FAST Break program is beneficial and helped me feel comfortable on campus,” Jackson said. “I liked having the small group and being able to get to know them. — I am glad to be a Grenadier and help this new group of FAST Breakers feel at home here.”
Homepage photo: Sydney Meunier of Greenville, Ind. and Dr. Elaine Haub, dean of the School of Natural Sciences.