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Fort Lewis College to offer new classes aimed at improving retention

Courses meant to engage, build relationships and spark curiosity

Freshmen at Fort Lewis College will be taking a new, one-hour course in fall 2019 aimed at introducing them to their new academic community, inspiring their intellectual curiosity, developing their ties to faculty members and increasing their awareness of services on campus.

What FLC would like to get out of the new class, called First Year Launch or FLC 101, is not only more engaged students but also an improved retention rate.

FLC’s first-year retention rate, at 66% for 2015, the last year for which data is available, is well below the 72% average retention rate for colleges, according to College Factual, a firm that seeks to place students in colleges that fit them.

Most colleges and universities have some form of a first-year course to help students acclimate to the institution, said Jesse Peters, interim provost at FLC, in an email to The Durango Herald.

Peters said the one-hour credit seminar will serve as a launch for students and provide a support system as they transition into FLC.

“Small, problem-based seminars will help forge connections with faculty as well as with peers. This course also serves as a vehicle for the dissemination of information on topics like advising, registration, academic holds, four-year maps to graduation, etc.,” he said.

Assistant professor of chemistry Callie Cole said Peters created the Student Success and Retention Committee on which she served to address ways to improve first-year retention at FLC. One of the ideas from the committee was the creation of a First Year Launch class.

Callie Cole, assistant professor of chemistry, demonstrates a chemical reaction Friday at Fort Lewis College. Cole will teach First Year Launch, or FLC 101, next fall. Among the goals of the class is to increase first-year retention of students.

Cole, who will teach one of the first sessions of First Year Launch, said the course will allow her to make direct connections with freshmen, otherwise she would be teaching all upper division classes. She said she will strive to spark curiosity about chemistry and scientific topics in her incoming students.

Cole’s First Year Launch class, “Chemistry Curiosities,” will replicate famous chemistry demonstrations, listen to scientific podcasts like “Radiolab” and watch “Cosmos” episodes to spark scientific discussions among students.

“Through this program, I get to teach the class that I wish I could have taken as a freshman: something both imaginative and scientific, driven entirely by curiosity about the natural world,” Cole said.

The class will examine any chemistry-related issues that pique her students’ interests. Cole, who received her doctorate in astrochemistry, said she wants students to drive the concepts they discuss by bringing in their own interests in chemistry-related and scientific issues.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the role of chemistry beyond planet Earth, out in distant nebulae and on particles of space dust,” she said. “I hope to mix ‘Cosmos’ episodes with scientific experiments and discussions to get students thinking about the behavior of matter both on Earth and out in space.”

Cole said the course also will help orient students on campus and more broadly in Durango.

Katrina Comfort, a professional academic adviser at Fort Lewis College, works with student Andrew Napora and other students helping them along with their academic experiences at FLC.

She plans to introduce them to campus events and activities organized by the Native American Center, El Centro de Muchos Colores and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

She also would like to get them involved in community science events at the Powerhouse Science Center and help out by judging regional science fairs.

Peters said faculty members suggested First Year Launch course themes based on their research interests.

Topics for First Year Launch include: “The Environmental Geography of Guitars,” “Identity Awareness Becoming You,” “Queer Culture, 1069-2019” and “The Seas of Purgatory.” President Tom Stritikus will teach one of the courses. His topic will be “Leadership.”

Retention issues, which have long been problematic at FLC, have been improving. In 2001, only 53 percent of the freshmen returned for their sophomore year.

Improving the co-curricular environment of the school has been high on the school’s agenda in recent years and efforts have been further encouraged by Stritikus.

The Fort Lewis College Foundation is working to purchase a raft company with river rights on the San Juan and Chama rivers in New Mexico and the Salt River in Arizona. The purchase is designed to offer students social and academic experiences unique to the region and not easily duplicated by other schools.

FLC also recently announced that first-year students carrying 12 credit hours for fall 2019 will receive passes to ski free at Purgatory Resort and Hesperus Ski Area, another effort to highlight the unique offerings the school provides compared with competitors.

Cynthia Dott, professor and co-chairwoman of the Biology Department, will teach “Flowers: Seeds of Creativity” as her First Year Launch class.

“I’m a biologist, and I study plants. I love flowers, and I think a lot of people do for many reasons, so I wanted to use this opportunity to explore both the biology of flowers and the ways that people interact with flowers in creative ways (literature, art, music …),” Dott said in an email. “What a great chance to encourage both biological and creative thinking in our students.”


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