Getting a Jump on the First-Year Experience

A group image with students and instructors during the School of Education’s Jumpstart First-Year Experience for education majors
A group photo taken during the 2022 School of Education's Jumpstart First-Year Experience for education majors. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Nguyen.

When you start a building project, you need a tool kit.

Education students can also benefit from a “tool kit” that helps them begin to build their future career.

That’s the idea behind the School of Education’s Jumpstart First-Year Experience for education majors. The project, which has been in place for five years, helps students develop the tools they need to be successful at UWM and in the School of Education, said Jeremy Page, assistant dean of student services and one of the leaders of the first-year experience.

Jacqueline Nguyen (asian woman), Associate Professor in Educational Psychology
Jackie Nguyen

“We want students to be successful at the college level in a couple of key areas,” added Jackie Nguyen, associate professor and chair of educational psychology and the other leader. “One is self-efficacy and the other is fostering a sense of belonging.”

The experience also gives students a chance to get to know faculty, staff, advisors and other students in education, increasing their sense of belonging.

“It is nice to have the School of Ed students together because we are able to frame the toolkit through the lens of education, Nguyen added.

The Women’s Giving Circle, a group of donors who pool their contributions to support education research and programs, has funded the effort since it started as a pilot project in 2019.

Last year, more than 100 first-year education students took part in the experience, which has expanded its approach over the years and now offers one academic credit.

Students who have chosen or are considering majoring in education are grouped in sections of 10 to 15 people, depending on whether they plan to become elementary/high school teachers, early childhood educators or major in American Sign Language/English Interpreting. Instructors like Angel Hessel, distinguished lecturer in Teaching and Learning, and Pam Conine, clinical professor and director of the American Sign Language/English interpreting program, help out. Many of the facilitators who have been involved volunteer their time above and beyond their regular duties. In addition to faculty and other instructors, many School of Education advisors have been involved in the experience over time.

Students enjoying lunch during the School of Education's Jumpstart First-Year Experience. Photos courtesy of Jacqueline Nguyen.
Students enjoying a lunch break during the Jumpstart First-Year Experience. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Nguyen.

Students who are planning to teach can explore the major in general, and learn about specific aspects, Nguyen said. For example, they can talk about student teaching and how that will fit with their other studies and outside jobs.

The Jumpstart Experience is designed to be interactive, and responsive to student needs, according to Nguyen and Page.

“We’re asking them key questions like what’s going really well for you at UWM,” said Page. “What’s not going well, and what do you have questions about?”

In each section those answers may vary, he said. “So, we’re custom fitting it live in real time for the benefit of students.”

If a student is struggling in an area, said Page, “we can say let us introduce you to this office you didn’t even know existed on campus that can help you manage the moment that you’re in.”

The experience is not a course or a seminar, said Nguyen. It’s designed to be low stress without major assignments.

One project that First-Year Experience students do get involved in – and enjoy – is creating presentations for fellow students about topics that interest them and may be helpful to others.

Jeremy Page (white man), Assistant Dean of Student Services in Office of Student Services
Jeremy Page

“Learning about these topics with others was a great way to cross-pollinate the sections and for them to learn from each other as a whole in addition to what they’re getting section by section,” said Page.

For example, students created presentations on where to study on campus, how to get around Milwaukee on public transit and discounts available to students.

Or students can record quick study tips on their phones and upload them to Canvas to share with others. “Those recordings are fabulous,” said Nguyen. “They have so much fun with them and give great tips.”

Page and Nguyen are researching the impact of the Jump Start Experience, comparing students who choose to take part with those who don’t each year.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate that there is an impact on students, even for the relatively short period of time and touch points with them,” said Page. “They have gains in their confidence in their ability to do college.”

The School of Education’s First-Year Experience is highlighted in the university’s 2030 plan as a model of how to get students engaged in their major and the university.

“We see some positive changes in their feeling about attending UWM and being an education major,” Nguyen added.

More generally, the school has seen some impacts on student retention since the JumpStart First-Year experience started in 2019, according to Nguyen and Page. “We’re not saying this is the only cause, but we have a greater percentage of students who stay in the major and stay at UWM compared to the time before we had this experience,” said Page.

If you would like to help fund Student Success, please visit the Give to School of Education webpage.