We designed a one-week pre-orientation, intended to build confidence and to alleviate the anxieties of the first year, since these may provide an uncomfortable campus climate for a student and hinder his or her academic performance. This pre-orientation is held the week preceding Grinnell’s general orientation for new students. Using the students’ college applications and their transcripts, we look at risk factors for poor performance in introductory science courses (none of which involve academic preparation) and select 70-90 students who indicate an interest in science on their application. These selected students are invited to participate in the GSP pre-orientation after they have accepted admission at the College. This has resulted in participation of 25-35 students in the early years and 40-45 in recent years.
The selection of these targeted students is based on their being one or more of the following:
- a first generation-college student;
- a domestic student of color; and/or
- a woman interested in physics or computational sciences.
The aims of the pre-orientation include:
- providing a student cohort in which relationships and a support network may be built;
- creating supporting relationships between students and a variety of science faculty;
- acquainting students and helping them to feel comfortable with an array of support services the College provides;
- identifying particular academic or writing weaknesses; and
- helping students become comfortable with the campus geography, the library, the computers, and residential life.
The GSP pre-orientation students and their families, many of whom are involved in college education for the first time, have the opportunity to meet other students, learn about the services and structures of the college, and meet faculty and staff. Since the target population consists of students who express an interest in science and mathematics, they come with common interests. These students meet faculty members who teach introductory science and mathematics courses and hear faculty expectations for students in these courses. Students also participate in faculty-led sample classes and a research-like project. Student life and academic support professionals become familiar and friendly resources as well. Additionally, faculty members participate in many of the social events, starting by dining with the students and the families when they arrive on campus. The burdens of adjusting to the many new demands made on the students are relieved by the personal attention they receive during the pre-orientation. Furthermore, the participants feel like “experts” when other new students arrive, and can offer directions and advice to them, further bolstering their confidence.