The College of Business' Freshman Engagement Program gets first-year students in the loop, adds faculty mentors to introductory course and peer mentorship
Jan. 31, 2006
By Anita Martin
In business, they say, who you know can get you far. But since first-year business students take most of their classes outside of the College of Business, making initial contact could be rough.
That is, until some students in the college's Corporate Leadership Program proposed and piloted the College of Business Freshman Engagement Program in 2002. Since then, the program, coordinated by Assistant Dean for Student Services Mike Bila, has evolved. It now includes a required BA 100 course, 55 upper-class business students trained as peer mentors and – new this year – faculty mentorship.
"Because of general education courses, we don't see much of our freshmen," says college Dean Glenn Corlett. "To make them a part of the College of Business, we need to connect them somehow." Many believe that the Freshman Engagement Program helps explain why the College of Business consistently has among the best retention rates in the university. Among them, David Descutner, associate provost for undergraduate education, calls the college's retention enviable, and attributes it to the college's commitment to quality teaching and connecting with students early on.
"If you don't take a business professor until your sophomore year," Descutner says, "you might lose interest; [you] won't feel prepared or connected. This gives them a chance to meet other students who give them valuable advice." Last year, the College of Business' retention rate of 91 percent was second only to the Honors Tutorial College.
Peer mentors meet with groups of eight to 10 first-year students throughout the year. During these sessions, first-year students get the lowdown on everything from campus involvement to resume writing to course scheduling. They meet professors and community professionals; learn about different business majors and sometimes, they just hang out. During fall quarter, mentor groups addressed the nuances of business attire with a faculty "business fashion show."
"To explain casual, business casual and business professional, we had some faculty show off what not to wear," Jeff Ruetty, mentor and senior marketing student, says. "One professor came in wearing jeans and a hockey shirt, with lots of make-up, chewing gum; another came in wearing odd colors. They did a good job of making it fun."
Students who volunteer to be mentors receive two credit hours for a course in "Group Mentoring and Facilitation" and an opportunity to reach out to incoming students from a leadership position.
"My biggest motivation was to bring freshmen into the college on a positive note," says Ruetty, who also experienced the pilot program as a freshman. "Without it, I would have felt like a number, just another student at OU. This is a great way to give students a sense of ownership and pride for the College of Business and the university."
For sophomore finance major Eric Rohrs, the Freshman Engagement Program opened doors to campus involvement and set the tone for the coming years.
"I don't think I would have been involved in organizations or understood what is expected of me, if not for the program," Rohrs says. He has joined the Christian Business Leaders and is looking into Delta Sigma Pi, a business fraternity.
This year, the program takes a step further by assigning faculty members to mentor groups. Five groups have volunteered to pilot the faculty mentorship offering.
"We've gone from the original vision, which was strictly a theory, to implementation," Bila explains. "Now we're bringing faculty into that. We want to show them that professors are just like them... only with PhDs and much higher salaries."
Faculty mentors, like peer mentors, will attend group meetings, engage students in activities and answer questions.
"Sometimes we think that faculty is just there to lecture and give us a hard time and assignments," says Jessica Hunley, a junior peer mentor majoring in human resource management, pre-law and management information systems. "This is to let them know that faculty are here for us and can be talked to." Hunley's is among the five faculty pilot groups.
This year's first-year business students use the program for social networking and academic preparation.
"It's just comforting to see familiar faces," says Matt Rica, a first-year undecided business student, "and just to start getting familiar with the College of Business. We're going to be here four years. It helps to get to know professors and be more comfortable in their classes." The College of Business Freshman Engagement Program received a $4,300 grant from the 1804 Fund of The Ohio University Foundation for the 2005-06 academic year.
Anita Martin is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.